The Points Interview: Scott Martin

The seventeenth entry in “The Points Interview” series features Scott Martin’s Devil of the Domestic Sphere: Temperance, Gender, and Middle-Class Ideology, 1800-1860 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2008; a paperback edition appeared in 2010).   Scott Martin is chair of the Department of History at Bowling Green State University, and the current Vice-President of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

My book is about the development of temperance reform as a crucial part of middle-class Devil of the Domestic Sphere coverideology during the first half of the nineteenth century.   A growing group of what we would now recognize as middle-class citizens – merchants, ministers, doctors, prosperous farmers – became concerned about excessive drinking, and created voluntary organizations to promote their approach to temperance, or limiting alcohol use.  In the process, they also articulated ideas about what it meant to be middle-class (respectability, sobriety, morality) and about what womanhood meant in the emerging capitalist society.  Drunkenness, largely considered to be a male vice, was bad because it injured innocent women and children as well as society.  Alcohol invaded the home in the form of drunken fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, making it impossible for middle-class women to maintain the kind of nurturing domestic environment needed

Temperance Poster
Homeward Bound?

to support families and, through them, the larger society. Women’s injury through male drinking proved a powerful public relations tool for temperance activists, but it depended on an image of women as devoted, long-suffering, and tied to the home.  When women themselves wanted to participate actively in temperance reform, men rebuffed them.  The development of this notion of middle-class womanhood complicated meaningful temperance reform and pushed some women to explore other avenues for gaining a voice, notably woman’s rights and woman suffrage movements.

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

I hope that my book makes clear the connection between gender ideology, class, and the reform of psychoactive substances – in this case alcohol. 

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The Points Interview: David Herzberg

Editors’ Note: We’re delighted to bring Points readers another installment (number sixteen) in the “Points Interview” series.  Today, we’re getting happy with David Herzberg, author of Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).  David Herzberg has been a Contributing Editor here at Points, and is also an Associate Professor in the Department of History at SUNY-Buffalo (where he also hosted the recent conference of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society).

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

Happy Pills is a cultural history of Miltown, Valium, and Prozac—three of the best known, Cover of Happy Pills in Americamost widely used, and controversial medicines in the postwar era.  It tells their medical and commercial stories, but also asks why they became so faddish and contentious, and how their fame (and infamy) influenced medical and popular ideas about consciousness and identity.
The book begins in the 1950s, when Miltown became the first “blockbuster” tranquilizer and an early icon of biological psychiatry.  The drug’s celebrity was the product of several developments:  intensified popular marketing of prescription drugs; increased medical and public attention to anxiety as an illness, led in part by Freudian psychiatry; and a burgeoning consumer culture primed to deliver technological wonders in the name of comfort and convenience for the middle classes.
But Miltown’s popularity didn’t sit well with everyone; in fact the prospect of eradicating anxiety made some people quite nervous.  The tranquilizer and its successors quickly became embroiled in postwar gender battles and the explosive politics of the “war against drugs,” and Happy Pills traces these stories to their combined conclusion in a feminist campaign against Valium addiction in the 1970s.  This was a most unusual anti-drug campaign, targeting sexism in drug companies and the medical system rather than stoking fear of addicts.  It capped off a decade of challenges to the pharmaceutical industry, and was part of a broader effort by reformers to rethink the boundaries between “drugs” and “medicines.”

Happy Pills ends with a look at the emergence of Prozac and other antidepressants in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the accompanying revival of popular belief in wonder drugs.  Why was this resurgence so successful when the drugs themselves turned out to be far from revolutionary?  Prozac’s boosters, I argue, took new findings in brain science and used them to create a story that was as much political as it was scientific:  miraculous new consumer goods now made it possible to pick and choose personalities—identities—in a utopian free market of accessorizable selfhood.  However exaggerated such promises may have been, they proved a powerful cultural vehicle for pushback against feminist-era drug critics, and a fitting vision of identity and personal change for an increasingly conservative era.

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The Points Interview: Eric Schneider

This week’s Points Interview is number fifteen in the series, and features Eric Schneider talking smack about Smack: Heroin and the American City.  Eric’s book has just appeared in a paperback edition, so this interview is a timely revisiting of this important study of heroin in postwar urban America.  Eric Schneider is Assistant Dean and Associate Director for Academic Affairs and an Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.  Readers of Points may also be interested in one of Eric’s earlier books, Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York (Princeton University Press, 2001).

1. Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand
Smack is about two things:  markets and the social environments in which people Cover of Eric Schneider's Smackconsumed heroin.  New York City dominated a centralized national market from the 1920s until the 1970s because a handful of mostly Italian and Jewish illegal entrepreneurs controlled access to the European sources of heroin.   Over time, new groups and new points of entry challenged New York’s supremacy, with African Americans, Cubans and Mexicans importing heroin from Southeast Asia, Latin America and Mexico through a variety of places.  Ties to Latin America were particularly important, as increasingly large amounts of cocaine traveled along the same routes and set the stage for the emergence of crack cocaine as a new mass market product in the 1980s.

What did not change much was the location of retail marketplaces.  Primary marketplaces located in poor African American and Latino communities, where unemployment was high and the underground economy, including drug selling, provided jobs in what was essentially the free market’s answer to deindustrialization.  In addition, police sheltered some sellers while arresting others, thus waging an ostensible ‘war on drugs’ while taking advantage of opportunities for graft.  The persistence of retail marketplaces in a neighborhood also encouraged the recruitment of the next generation of users and sellers as adolescents acquired the ‘drug knowledge’ needed to negotiate the market.  As heroin use expanded, secondary heroin markets opened up in the suburbs closest to traditional heroin-using center cities.  (Basically, venturesome users would make larger purchases in the primary marketplace and then return home and support their habits through sales to less-venturesome peers.)

Heroin consumption began among the socially and economically marginal, those most alienated from mainstream American life. 

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The Points Interview: Howard Markel

The Points Interview returns today after a six-week holiday, with the fourteenth installment of the series featuring Howard Markel’s An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine.  Just released by Pantheon, An Anatomy of Addiction has already received considerable notice, including this review in the Sunday New York Times and this review in Salon.  Markel is the wearer of many hats at the University of Michigan, including serving as the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, and we’re grateful to him for taking a moment to discuss his book.

1. Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cover of An Anatomy of Addiction by Howard MarkelCocaine is the story of two medical giants who happened to abuse cocaine.  Freud, of course, is the father of psychoanalysis, while Halsted, who is less well known to the general reader, was the father of modern surgery. Both experimented with cocaine to help others. Freud hoped it would cure a dear friend of morphine addiction, and Halsted believed cocaine was destined to be the world’s first truly effective local anesthetic. Both used themselves as guinea pigs, and were soon ‘hooked’.  Through their shared addiction, Freud and Halsted are tragic figures, but the sum of their life achievements makes them heroes. Freud never used the drug intravenously, and very likely overcame his addiction just as he started developing the therapeutic process we know as psychoanalysis. Halsted wasn’t as lucky. He used cocaine and morphine intravenously for the rest of his life, and underwent the personality changes and alienations we now associate with the addiction process. His iron will to develop new and better surgical techniques, and to teach these to students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was strong enough to insure that he confined his addictive excesses to times away from the hospital.

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The Points Interview: Dan Weimer

Sliding into the lucky thirteenth installment of the Points Interview is Dan Weimer, author of Seeing Drugs: Modernization, Counterinsurgency, and U.S. Narcotics Control in the Third World, 1969–1976 (Kent State University Press, 2011).  Dan is on the faculty of Wheeling Jesuit University–you can find out more about him here, and much more about the book here.  The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of the American global drug war, and I’d encourage Points readers to check it out.  (NB: Read to the end of the interview–I think Dan’s made the best voice-over nomination to date.)

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

I use this type of question on my students a lot (though I substitute “grandmother” for “mother”) and I understand why they dislike it; but here goes…

For the Nixon administration, and its successor the Ford administration, a crucial component of decreasing drug use in the United States was to limit or stop the production of illegal drugs (particularly heroin) in the nations that cultivated or refined drug crops (specifically opium). My book explores how Thailand, Burma, and Mexico were deemed the key opium and heroin producing and trafficking nations during the early and mid-1970s and how the United States, in conjunction with the United Nations and the Thai, Burmese, and Mexican governments, tried to halt drug trafficking and production in those countries. I explain why the United States relied upon modernization and counterinsurgency theory to solve the “drug problem.” (Admittedly, it would take me a bit of time to explain these theories to mom.) Essentially, American officials believed that if we could defeat insurgents connected to opium trafficking in Burma (rather than preemptively purchase the illicit opium harvest), modernize opium farmers in Thailand (i.e. help them to grow other crops), and destroy drug crops through the most efficient means (using aerial herbicides in Mexico), then a big part of the “drug problem” would be solved. In the long run, this drug war “solution” produced two effects. One, the Nixon and Ford administrations set the parameters of subsequent drug control policy abroad. Two, despite the United States’ failure in the Vietnam War and U.S. public skepticism over American meddling across the globe, the drug war guaranteed continued U.S. intervention in the Third World.

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The Points Interview: James Nicholls

For the twelfth installment of the Points Interview we revisit alcohol (one of the psychoactive “Big Three”, to use David Courtwright’s term), and a marvelous account of England’s long public debate over the place of drinking in the social order. James NichollsThe Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England (Manchester University Press, 2009) is a well-reviewed and ambitious study set to appear this August in a paperback edition, and we’re grateful to James for taking a moment to answer a few questions.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
The Politics of Alcohol is my attempt at a long history of public debates around drinking in The Politics of Alcohol CoverEngland. It’s about how drinking has been talked about, policed, worried over and legislated for. The first proper Licensing Act was passed in England in 1552, and the most recent was 2003 – so that seemed like a good way of bookending the study. At least, it seemed like a good idea at the start: five hundred years turned out to be a long time.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
For me, what is most interesting is the way that debates on how to regulate alcohol have always been thinly veiled debates over the nature of freedom. I try to show how changing ideas about social rights, markets freedoms, personal responsibility and state intervention have underpinned concerns about both the nature of the risks associated with alcohol and the best way to regulate its use.

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The Points Interview: Diana L. Ahmad

For our eleventh Points Interview, we do something new–take our first visit to opium in historical scholarship.  We’re pleased to do it through an interview with Diana L. Ahmad, whose book The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West (University of Nevada Press) has just appeared in a new paperback edition.  The Opium Debate explains the extent to which the response to smoking-opium/opium smoking influenced the policy world of Chinese exclusion–and does so in a very carefully researched study.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-Diana Ahmad, The Opium Debatestreet) could understand.

When people think of the Chinese in the nineteenth-century American West, they often visualize a man with a long queue wearing traditional clothing working as a cook and housekeeper, like Hop Sing in Bonanza.  Others might think of Chinese launderers in the mining towns or laborers building railroads, such as the Central Pacific.  The thousands of Chinese men who moved to the United States came as sojourners with little intention of remaining in the country. Instead, they hoped to earn enough money to help their families economically, and then return home.  As a result, few Chinese women accompanied the workers to Gam Saan (Gold Mountain or San Francisco).  With the lack of Chinese women available to form families in the West, a few of the men occupied their time in vice activities, such as gambling (games akin to lotteries), Chinese prostitution, or smoking opium.  It must be remembered that FEW of the men smoked opium, but that did not matter to the Anglo-Americans who noticed that the “sporting classes” of whites began to visit the opium dens in Chinatown by the 1870s.  Then children started to go to the dens, and soon the middle class visited them.  Because the mid-to-late nineteenth century middle and elite classes believed in Victorian values, smoking opium threatened their standards and beliefs.  Women needed to remain in the homes and smoking opium attacked the values they held dear, including purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness.

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The Points Interview: Nick Reding

One of the facts of life for a historian of drugs in the modern United States is that you’ll frequently be asked if you’ve read the latest best-seller on contemporary drug issues.  That was certainly the case when the subject of Points Interview number ten–Nick Reding’s Methland (Bloomsbury, 2009)–first appeared on the best-seller lists.  A new paperback edition of the book was released May 25, and we’re able to mark the occasion with the Points Interview.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand. 

Methland is about three years in the life of a small Iowa town with a bad methamphetamine problem. To tell the story, it follows the lives of the mayor, the town doctor, the prosecutor, a meth addict, and a trafficker. It’s about where the meth comes from and what it does, but it’s also about the way the town fights back, along with the personal ups and downs of the principal characters.

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

One thing people talk to me about a lot is the book’s emphasis on larger social and economic vectors as prime movers in the characters’ addictions as they’re portrayed in Methland. This wouldn’t be any news to drug and alcohol historians. But what might be of interest is the origin of these vectors as they pertain to the town of Oelwein, Iowa, which are largely changes in the American food production business, the pharmaceutical industry, and immigration patterns.

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