Editor’s Note: This early posting on the HNN documentary “The Stoned Ages,” does not discuss the show’s content. For commentary and analysis of the show, and a few links for further reading, click here.
Programming alert! Tomorrow evening (Wednesday, September 21) at 9 PM, the History Channel will broadcast a one-hour special program on drug history, called “The Stoned Ages.” The work of director/producer Adam Barton (though the title comes from publicity-keen History Channel folks), the program may or may not feature some of your Points contributors. Both David Herzberg and I, along with several others, were interviewed by Adam during the recent Alcohol and Drugs History Society conference in Buffalo. In my experience, I found Adam be an eager and engaged consumer of academic histories on the subject of drugs. Here’s the description of the program, from the History Channel site:
From the early cave dwellers who first stumbled upon psychedelic mushrooms to the over 6000-year-old tradition of opium cultivation in the East to a modern pharmaceutical industry with over 24,000 drugs on the market, drugs have played a role in our lives since well before recorded human history. Explore the reasons we’ve used drugs through the ages, while considering the devastating consequences that accompany the choice to use certain drugs. This fascinating, fresh, and insightful documentary will ask the question: overall, have drugs done more to help us or hurt us? Host Dean Norris will journey through the millennia and look in on the greatest civilizations in human history to discover if drugs helped these societies flourish or fail and whether drug use was holy or hedonistic, a savior or a curse?
Now, I understand that academic historians have treated the History Channel with some ambivalence.
Indeed, ambivalence may have been the high-water mark, characteristic of HC’s early years, when the network programming dwelt on conventional military and political history. In recent years, the channel’s been drifting further from the original history concept, drawing commentary that’s, well, less ambivalent and more directly hostile.
So, what should we expect from “The Stoned Ages”? Anyone who has ever had two hours of talking edited down to two minutes will almost certainly agree that there’s no way to tell just what it will sound like. I hope you’ll join me in taking a look, and then back here at Points to discuss the results, which ought to make an interesting lead in to the upcoming Ken Burns’ Prohibition series (more on that soon).
Joe Spillane is Professor of History at the University of Florida. He has authored Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004). More recently, he authored Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014). His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; reflections on the nature of drug epidemics; and examinations of drug war “harms” in historical context.