In January 2018, Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert assumed responsibility for Social History of Drugs and Alcohol: An Interdisciplinary Journal. They took on the role of co-editors in chief and began planning for the future. In April, the ADHS signed an agreement with University of Chicago Press.
1.) Tell us about your history as a scholar. What got you interested in alcohol and drug history?
Nancy: As the daughter and grand-daughter of small-town doctors, I was fascinated by the drug room and amassed a large collection of pharmaceutical giveaways. I was struck by how dismissive people were toward “druggies,” so at a tender age, I announced my intention to write a history of drugs. I’m just sticking to the plan.
Luc: I didn’t have a plan. Far from it. But I did figure out that I wanted to focus on the field of history in my third year of undergraduate. I started scheming and scrambling after I finished up at the University of Saskatchewan – and then I traveled to Edinburgh and London for graduate school. Early on, the American pharmaceutical policy grabbed my attention for a number of reasons; ultimately, this seemed a useful way of understanding the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
David: One of my closest friends in college had a very severe anxiety disorder. He was a very charismatic guy and liked to hold court and hold forth while medicating himself thoroughly with the one drug that he said eased his mind, alcohol. A favorite subject of his was Big Pharma medical journal ads. He had somehow come into possession of a huge stack of old journals, and he would flip through the images of smilingly healed people, deconstructing them freestyle, brilliantly but also bitterly–those drugs had let him down, but there they still were, mocking him with their shiny and, to him, fake promises. It stuck with me, this acute, intense version of consumer culture promises and human realities. My friend died while I was in grad school, making the questions more urgent right around when it was time to pick a dissertation topic.
2.) What projects are you currently working on? And which of your past projects are you proudest of?
Luc: By far the largest project I’m working on is SHAD! The three of us have put in a lot of effort to move the journal to UCP and get it up and running. Now we’re slowly shifting into a brainstorming, long-term planning mode. By the way, it’s awesome working with David and Nancy.
Nancy: We are a productive bunch. I’m finishing up a book called OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose (part of the Inside Technology Series at The MIT Press). But I’m proudest of The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts, the historical photo-ethnography I did with JP Olsen and Luke Walden. Working with great people who are fascinated by similar people, places, and things has been the great privilege and pleasure of my career–editing SHAD .
David: Just yesterday I finished the zero-and-a-half draft of a book manuscript! It’s a history of addictive medicines in the U.S., a from-Bayer’s-Heroin-to-Purdue’s-OxyContin kind of thing, mixing business history, political history, social history, and cultural history. For now I’m calling it The Other Drug War: Pharmaceuticals and Addiction in American History. I guess I’m proudest of a recent article drawn from that research, “Entitled to addiction? Pharmaceuticals and race in America’s first drug war.”
Luc: Past projects, too? I missed that part of the question. Off the top of my head, I’m quite proud of my work in the history of psychiatry, particularly ‘“Therapy Means Political Change, Not Peanut Butter”: Radical Psychiatry in the United States, 1967-1975,’ in Social History of Medicine. (I also like that I got “peanut butter” into the title of a journal article!)
3.) Not only are you a scholar, a writer and an editor – you’re also a professor. How do you approach teaching drug and alcohol history?
Nancy: My students and I are always surprised at how fast my “Drugs in History” class goes. My favorite exercise is to pass around a lovingly curated grab bag of artifacts pertaining to both licit and illicit drug marketing, and ask groups to map the circuits that the artifact traveled to get to our classroom. The “technology stories” that emerge are often humorous ways into thinking about psychoactive commerce.
David: I weave it into the U.S. history survey, but also teach two courses called “Alcohol and other drugs in American history,” one a big lecture course and the other a capstone research seminar. And I dream dreams of being as creative as Nancy! Nancy, can I take your class??
Luc: My aim in any course is to encourage the students to appreciate how to think historically – and then how to apply their brainpower to contemporary, real-world problems. Like drugs and alcohol! I push students to develop their own ideas and views about history, and to do so from a place that balances evidence with analysis. You know, like in the realm of drugs and alcohol!
4.) What do you predict for the future of our field? Where are we going, and what should we make sure that we focus on next?
Luc: Predict the future? These aren’t simple questions, Emily, and I don’t think there are straightforward answers here! Part of our job, as I see it, is to establish the conditions for and facilitate dialogue around the future of the field. Does that make sense? Oh, and I’m thrilled that ADHS is holding its first-ever meeting in China.
Nancy: For a long time now, we’ve been talking about the some of the absences that echo loudest in studies of drugs and alcohol–pleasure and desire in addition to the focus on social suffering and harm. We’d like to steer the journal toward doing a special issue on transcorporeality, queer theory, and feminist new materialisms. Drugs are so much about embodiment, yet much of our discourse emphasizes cognition and the brain. We don’t want the body–the racialized, gendered, sexualized, abilified body–to be left to its own devices!
David: What they said, plus, I’d like to see “drugs” become more relevant outside the field, to the objects, processes, people, etc., that sit on the other side of many drug-related binaries: e.g., what can “drugs” teach us about the construction of “medicine,” about the category of “consumer good,” about “health” (which sometimes seems opposed both to “harm” and to “pleasure”), etc.?
5.) Finally, SHAD is coming into an exciting new moment. What are you most excited about for the future of the journal?
David: I’m especially excited to bring new people into the conversation–people who work in our field but don’t know it yet, people who should be working in our field but who don’t realize how expansive it is or can be.
Luc: Yeah, the future is bright. The new team is stellar: the people at UCP are great, our editorial board members and editors are all excellent. We have a real chance now to nudge the field in different directions and respond to important new work.
Nancy: Right now, it feels something like a barn-raising! We’re working to bring people and materials together to diversify the field, take on some of the uneven cultural geography of drug and alcohol history, and raise the profile by housing the journal with the University of Chicago Press. Our field is lively. We want SHAD to be the first publishing venue you think of when you’re bringing new work into the world.