Teaching Points– A History of Drugs in the Modern World

Editor’s Note: Continuing in a great year-old tradition, Points kicks off this back to school season as we did last year, with a celebration of drug and alcohol pedagogy from various fields.  Over the next five weeks, the “Teaching Points” series will present the syllabi from relevant classes in history, criminology, international relations, economics and behavioral sciences.  The day after the syllabus appears, the instructor will offer a “Comment on the Class” that discusses their highs (as it were) and lows, their middles and muddles.  Our first foray in the series comes from Matthew Crawford, Department of History at Kent State, whom some Points readers may know from his superb stint as a guest blogger last winter.  We’ve positioned him first in the series because of the modest scope and ambition of his senior history elective “A History of Drugs in the Modern World.”

Course Description and Objectives
What is a “drug”? How are they discovered and produced? Why and how do some drugs get distributed widely and others do not?  Why do societies and states regulate the distribution of some drugs and not others?  These are some of the central questions that this course seeks to answer.  We will employ a comparative and historical approach to examine the ways in which societies identify, develop, produce, consume and regulate (or not) various pharmacological substances.  Course readings will cover a range historical case studies of primarily plant-based drugs from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America.  One of the main features and forces of world history since 1500 has been globalization.  As a result, we will pay special attention to what happens when drugs move across political, social, economic, and cultural boundaries. Possible case studies to be covered include: kola, coffee, tobacco, cocaine, opium, quinine, anti-cancer drugs and contraceptives.  Members of the course will do a short project on a drug of their choice in order to sharpen their skills at exploring the history of modern societies and cultures through material objects.

Our objectives for the course include:
• Be able to describe and discuss major trends in the history of drugs in the early modern and modern periods (c. 1500 to the present)
• Understand the use of material culture and objects in historical understanding of the modern world and its development
• Learn how to identify, evaluate and compare different historical accounts of drugs, their development and their regulation
• Learn how to analyze primary sources and relate them to their historical context
• Learn how to synthesize information from primary and secondary sources into a coherent historical narrative and how to use evidence to support a historical interpretation or argument

Transnational, Transtemporal

Course Readings
Required Readings
Brandt, Allan M. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Dikötter, Frank, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun. Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Goodman, Jordan and Vivian Walsh. The Story of Taxol: Nature and Politics in the Pursuit of an Anti-Cancer Drug. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Reidy, James. Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. New York: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005.

Additional readings or links to reading may be posted on our course website on Blackboard.  You MUST bring a copy of these readings to class.

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