The Points Interview: Miriam Kingsberg

Editor’s Note: Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado-Boulder, reflects on her new book Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History (University of California Press, 2013).

9780520276734Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The book is about the history of narcotics in Japan from the mid-nineteenth century (when the country opened after more than two centuries of seclusion) through the mid-1950s (when Japan regained its independence after war and occupation by the United States). The central question I ask is: how do narcotics become entangled with nation and empire-building agendas during this century? I argue that the Japanese stance on drugs became a platform to enter an ongoing global conversation about standards for political legitimacy in nations and empires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

 What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I am an historian, so I did write the book from a history background and for a history audience. And the book is a chronological narration of these three episodes of moral crusade, and how the persons and institutions involved in them used narcotics to assert social power and produce certain national and imperial outcomes.

But one thing I would also want to stress is that it derives a lot from interdisciplinary scholarship and methodologies that would be traditionally considered outside of history. For instance, I used a fair amount of quantitative methodology. Japan, for various reasons, collected more and better statistics on narcotics than any other power in the world at the time. That data was not necessarily meant to be used in the way that I used it, but my argument certainly derives from the data. My chapters are also organized according to the concept of “moral entrepreneurship,” which comes out of sociology. I would hope that, in addition to historians, I am talking to scholars in other fields as well.

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