This article is an abstract of Patrick Chiu’s forthcoming book “Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson” due to release at the end of May 2022. Pre-ordering at the Amazon Books is available or World Scientific with the discount code WSASOC20, valid until September 30, 2022.
Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Carl Erik Fisher, the author of The Urge: Our History of Addiction (Penguin Press, 2022). Carl is an addiction psychiatrist, bioethics scholar, and author. He is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, where he studies and teaches law, ethics, and policy relating to psychiatry and neuroscience, especially issues related to substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors. The interview was conducted by Dr David Herzberg, Editor of the Social History of Alcohol & Drugs.
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Katherine Aiken, a professor emerita of history at the University of Idaho with an emphasis in social and cultural history, women, and labor. She is the author of Idaho’s Bunker Hill: The Rise and Fall of a Great Mining Company, 1885-1981
The combination of a salacious adultery story; a murder in front of eyewitnesses; and a circus-like trial is a recipe for an exciting tale. This is indeed true of the 1916 Rossi murder that is the subject of Ron Roizen’s book, The Rossi Murder: And the Unwritten Law in 1916’s Wallace, Idaho (2021). Herman J. Rossi was a Wallace, Idaho, community leader, serving at various times as the mayor of Wallace and as a member of the Idaho legislature.
In 1906, he married Mabel Rice, fifteen years his junior. Rossi soon discovered that, instead of the ingenue he expected, Mabel, in fact, struggled with an alcohol addiction. Although Rossi apparently doted on his young wife, prominent Wallace women declined to associate with Mabel due to her alleged drinking. Rossi believed that alcoholism was a disease, and he sought treatment for his wife on several occasions—but never found a permanent cure.
In late June 1916, Rossi returned from a political trip to the state capitol to find his wife had spent three days—much of it in bed—with a local musician and alleged bootlegger, Clarence Dahlquist. Rossi pulled his wife from her bed; slapped her; tore off her nightgown and threatened to throw her naked into the street. Next, he went to the kitchen and drank two cups of black coffee and then walked down the street to the Samuels Hotel lobby where he confronted Dahlquist and shot him. Dahlquist died the next morning.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century.
In A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), Michele Rotunda has written a significant contribution about the history of alcohol consumption that will appeal to students of numerous fields, most notably scholars engaged in legal, medical, and cultural studies. Drawing from an impressive array of primary sources, Rotunda’s taut narrative, tracing the complex evolution of juridical precedents beginning in the colonial era that established the culpability of defendants accused of often gruesome crimes while intoxicated, is revelatory.
Rotunda’s extensive use of court documents, in particular, illuminates in exquisite detail the highly contested nature of judicial concepts like intention and responsibility, and how they considerably influenced verdicts in cases of alcohol-induced criminality. Did murder commissioned under the influence of alcohol constitute a deliberate, voluntary, and premeditated crime? If not, was the accused nevertheless at fault for willfully partaking in a vice that could disorder the mind and facilitate the perpetration of murder—an idea resting on deeply entrenched beliefs in American society about the immorality of drunken indulgence that knowingly caused mental derangement? Or, as physicians who were increasingly concerned with the physiology and psychology of intoxication proclaimed, was the impetus for murderous behavior exhibited by defendants vastly more complicated, requiring nuanced diagnoses that only practitioners’ scientific expertise and empiricism could provide?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.
I’ve been reading about pot since before my formal history training. I’ve always been fascinated by the inclusion of the standard story about the “long history” of cannabis that seemed to appear in the introduction to just about every book or article on the subject. As a teenager/young adult first experimenting with cannabis after a childhood of “Just Say No” sobriety, I was somehow comforted to know that I could tap into the wonders of a cannabis high in the same way that many ancient societies had in India, China, or the Middle East.
I have since learned a lot more about the plant, and it is clear that my assumptions had been based on problematic conceptions of “other” cultures. The growing historical literature about intoxicants has further challenged my formerly overly simplistic understandings about how societies manage drug use and about how drug policies and public opinion interact to shape beliefs about drugs. I’ve been struck, though, that the connection between ancient uses of cannabis and our more recent social and cultural contexts have often been missing from these analyses. Such a long-term historical perspective could help us better understand the dynamic flows of drug knowledge across time and place.
Bradley J. Borougerdi’s 2018 book Commodifying Cannabis seeks to make these types of connections. Borougerdi focuses on the Anglo-American Atlantic World and describes the plant as a “triple-purpose” cultural commodity. He builds on previous work by scholars like Isaac Campos who has previously investigated how re-interpretations of Spanish and indigenous knowledge influenced the circulation of information about cannabis in Mexico. Borougerdi, here, examines how orientalist assumptions shaped knowledge about the plant as it moved through the Anglo-American world. He argues that the different meanings of cannabis—attached to its different modes of use—dictated the trajectory of cannabis commodification in the early modern period, the prohibition of cannabis in the nineteenth century, and the recent re-commodification of cannabis.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.
Dr. Carl Hart’s timely Drugs for Grown-ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear attempts to ignite a shift in our collective consciousness—much like the psychoactive substances he chronicles. Credentialed academics and other elites tend to deny using drugs, or, if they want to pass as authentic for political reasons, they might admit to a few youthful indiscretions (e.g., then-candidate Barack Obama’s “inhaling was the point” comment in 2007).
Defying this taboo, Hart, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, owns up to his affection for an expansive medicine chest. He reveals dabbling in amphetamines, discloses his use of the unfairly-maligned drug heroin, and discusses sampling 1990s club drug—and soon-to-be FDA approved medication—MDMA, along with other more obscure compounds like 2C-B, which was popularized by virtuoso, chemist, and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin.
Hart’s self-doctoring is reminiscent of nineteenth-century medical ethics, embodied by such titans of the time as William Halstead and Sigmund Freud. His self-prescribing bridges the gap between his knowledge and his experience, which helps him better understand subjects visiting his Columbia University lab. Drugs also filtered into his other extracurricular activities, figuring into adventures with his wife and enhancing their relationship and strengthening their marriage.
Who Are Drug Users?
Hart considers himself the rule not the exception in terms of drug use. Drug users are not zombies, he emphasizes; they are not the flesh-eating monsters sometimes depicted on highway billboards accompanied by inane anti-drug slogans. Drug users are not unwashed psychos or crime aficionados who inexplicably love doing evil. No, most drug users are typical, normal, average Americans, gainfully employed and living undetected—maybe you or your neighbor. And that’s okay.
Generally speaking, Hart’s ideas are easy to understand, and he gives primacy to the crucial observation that most people’s experiences with drugs are positive. Drugs offer insight, increase euphoria, and provide pleasure. Drugs act as social lubricants, making social interactions easier to bear or more enjoyable; and drugs break down barriers, allowing some individuals to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. People use drugs to soften the edge after a stressful day working a job they hate, and, conversely, drugs can help those who love their jobs be more productive and work long evening hours.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. He adds to our Points Bookshelf series, where we examine and review recent books about alcohol and drug history.
In Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs, Peter Andreas, a professor of international studies at Brown University, probes the “symbiotic relationship between drugs and war,” or “how drugs made war and war made drugs.” Over the last two years, this area of interest has garnered tremendous attention. Two blockbusters that come to mind are Shooting Up: A History of Drugs and War, a general history of drugs and war throughout the ages, and Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, which, as the title suggests, hones in on Nazi Germany’s love-hate relationship with psychoactive substances, particularly methamphetamine. Shooting Up has some close parallels with Killer High, as the two dip their toes in the same stream so to speak, but Killer High is different in its approach, emphasis and aim. Andreas concentrates on six drugs—alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, opium, amphetamine, and cocaine—detailing his interpretative lens through five types of relationships, including the complementary and often contradictory link binding war with drugs throughout history.
New book series coming from McGill-Queen’s University Press: “Intoxicating Histories,” with series editors by Virginia Berridge, Erika Dyck, and Noelle Plack. Whether on the street, off the shelf, or over the pharmacy counter, interactions with drugs and alcohol are shaped by contested ideas about addiction, healing, pleasure, and vice and their social dimensions. Books in …