Pharmacy in History Interview—Rachael Pymm, “Transmitting Medical Exotica”

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of the Points series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of AIHP’s journal Pharmacy in History (vol. 62, no. 3-4). Today we feature Rachael Pymm, an independent researcher, holding an MA from the History Department of Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. You can see her article here. Contact AIHP to subscribe to Pharmacy in History.

Article Abstract for “Transmitting Medical Exotica: Louis Philiberto Vernatti, the Snakestone, and the Royal Society “

Snakestones, purported to naturally generate in the head of a snake, were reputed to be a cure for snakebites in the early modern world. Against the backdrop of European exoticism, which influenced the circulation of pharmaceutical and medical knowledge, snakestones became a subject of popular and scholarly interest during the late seventeenth century. Analyzing unpublished archival evidence, this paper considers the circumstances of the 1664 transmission of an individual snakestone from Batavia, Indonesia, to the Royal Society in London, England. Unlike other pharmaceutical exotica that was commonly conveyed via large-scale commercial networks, the trade in snakestones was characterized by small-scale transfer in the manner of kunstkammer materials.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself:

I’m an independent scholar based in the UK, and I work in Professional Services at a university. I have a broad range of academic interests, including the history of medicine, as well as the medieval crusades and how they have been memorialized on postage stamps. I have been researching unusual animal-based materia medica—particularly snakestones—for a number of years, alongside my work and family commitments. Researching in this way can be challenging, particularly in terms of time management, but I really love my subject. And I have a very supportive family most of whom—including my six year old son—are now fully conversant in snakestone lore!

PH Interview Pymm

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Pharmacy in History Interview—Kathi Badertscher, “Insulin at 100: Indianapolis, Toronto, Woods Hole, and the ‘Insulin Road'”

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of the Points series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of AIHP’s journal Pharmacy in History (vol. 62, no. 3-4). Today we feature Kathi Badertscher, Director of Graduate Programs and a lecturer at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. You can see her article here. Contact AIHP to subscribe to Pharmacy in History.

Article Abstract

“Insulin at 100” joins a body of new scholarship being produced globally to commemorate the discovery of insulin. This paper brings to light a new perspective on the collaboration between two North American institutions: the University of Toronto in Canada and Eli Lilly & Company in the United States. It focuses on the collaboration’s complexities, actors who have not been examined previously, and implications for both parties and the general public. The article contributes to existing scholarship by expanding the collaboration story to include central actors at both Eli Lilly and the University of Toronto in a continuous and collaborative cycle of discovery and innovation.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

I am the Director of Graduate Programs and a lecturer at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. I worked in the corporate sector for 26 years before coming to IU as a master’s student. In 2006, I thought I would take a few classes on philanthropy to become a more intentional and informed volunteer, board member, and donor. I never imagined I would stay for the doctoral program and have the privilege of joining the faculty.

Kathi Badertscher PH Interview Title Card

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Points Interview: David Fahey and the History of ADHS

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. David Fahey, a long-time member—and an unofficial resident historian—of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. Dr. Fahey is Professor Emeritus at Miami University and the author of several books about the history of alcohol and temperance.

David Fahey

Dr. Fahey, nice to get in touch with you! Members of the ADHS often get notices about new publications and conferences from you via the Daily Register. So how long have you been involved in the organization?

Historians often neglect the history of their own organizations. I will happily provide a few details.

The Alcohol and Temperance History Group (ATHG) was first created at an American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in December 1979. A US Government-funded conference about alcohol history was then held at Berkeley, California, in January 1984—which occasioned the restructuring of the ATHG; its first officers (Jack Blocker as first president); and first membership dues. I joined a few years later and took part in the formal organization after the big Berkeley conference. Early conferences of the ATHG were usually held in Canada where funding for conferences was more available than in the USA (Berkeley in 1984 was unique).

Things used to be very informal. There were very few of us. At various times I was President of the organization and Editor of the journal. At some point, I took the main responsibility for the Daily Register but with no title. In fact, several people got the right to post and very occasionally did. 

I agree that we should be paying attention to our own history! What should members know about the early days of the ADHS? Can you share any gems from the organization’s history? 

You can read the early versions of SHAD. Also see Alcohol in History: A Multidisciplinary Newsletter, Spring 1980. It provides a brief history.

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Points Interview: Stephen Snelders

Stephen Snelders Points Interview card

Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Stephen Snelders, the author of Drug Smuggler Nation: Narcotics and the Netherlands, 1920–1995 (Manchester University Press, 2021). Snelders is a Research Fellow at University of Utrecht, and is a member of the Intoxicating Spaces project. He has written books on seventeenth-century Dutch piracy, leprosy in the Dutch colony of Suriname and LSD therapy in the Netherlands. The interview was conducted by Contributing Editor Peder Clark.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The recreational use of illegal drugs is quite common and a more or less accepted leisure activity in the city where I (and my bartenders before and after the lockdown) live. Just as common is media coverage of violence executed by “organized crime,” trials against “drug lords,” new record drug seizures in Dutch port towns, police raids on underground drug laboratories, and the “subversion” of the democratic state by organized drug gangs. Fifty years ago, all of these phenomena seemed to exist to a much smaller degree. The whole concept of “organized crime” was then unknown to the Dutch judiciary and police force. Furthermore, a hundred years ago, there were no laws against illicit drugs in the Netherlands. Since then, the Netherlands has become a key hub of the international drug trade.

My book basically asks the question, how did we get ourselves in this situation, and, especially, why did Dutch drug smuggling become so big and important? The book researches histories of smugglers and smuggling networks: drug users, criminal entrepreneurs, idealists from the hippie and XTC (ecstasy or MDMA) drug undergrounds, brokers from pharmaceutical companies, sailors, and others. They could all thrive in a social and cultural climate of what I call “criminal anarchy:” embedded and rooted in Dutch society, connected to a legal “upperworld.” Crucially, they were NOT organized in large hierarchical crime syndicates that would have been relatively easy targets for police activities, but rather the groups and networks were often transitory, vertically organized, and only seldom competing with each other. In short, the book shows why cutting off one head of the hydra of drug smuggling only led to the growth of new heads in new places.

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The Points Interview: Daniel J. Robinson

Points Interview Daniel RobinsonCard

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Daniel J. Robinson the author of Cigarette Nation: Business, Health, and Canadian Smokers, 1930–1975 from the Intoxicating Histories Series at McGill-Queen’s University Press edited by Virginia Berridge and Erika Dyck. Robinson is a historian and associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. He is currently researching historical tobacco use in Indigenous Canada and cigarette smoking and vaping among North American youths.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

For most of the last century, bars like this were filled with cigarette smokers. So, too, were restaurants, bowling alleys, physician waiting rooms, workplaces, and countless other public and private spaces. In the early 1950s, six in ten Canadians regularly smoked cigarettes—which were touted for enhancing sociability, psychological well-being, and productivity. By then, smoking had become a key marker of self-identity and social belonging. So, my book asks, how did these smokers react to news in the 1950s that cigarettes caused lung cancer? How did the tobacco industry respond? Some smokers, mostly older men, managed to quit, but the majority carried on, and lots of new smokers joined their ranks. For decades, smokers downplayed tobacco-cancer science and viewed their own mode of smoking as less risky. The industry promoted this thinking with a strategy of “Hope and Doubt.” “Hope” came in the form of health reassurance marketing, seen, for example, with light and mild brands which smokers believed were safer. The industry promoted “doubt” with a long-running disinformation campaign that attacked the medical science linking cigarettes to cancer and other serious diseases.

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The Way Back Machine—Marsha Rosenbaum: Women on Heroin at 40

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this is the first installment in “The Way Back Machine,” a series of interviews with key theorists and practitioners of alcohol and drugs research, treatment, and recovery among women and communities of color during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Through these interviews, Points co-founder and Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis works out some of the theoretical issues she articulated almost ten years ago in “Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards A Research Agenda.”

Women on Heroin Cover
Cover of Women on Heroin by Marsha Rosenbaum.

When Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” in 1971, the assumed abuser was male—probably a man of color, possibly a poor white man, but almost certainly a man. Women were known to use and abuse narcotics, but their numbers were small. As a result, theories of narcotics use, and the policy prescriptions that sprang from them, rarely paid attention to the woman user. Medical sociologist Marsha Rosenbaum set out to correct that problem with Women on Heroin (WOH), a field-defining study published forty years ago by Rutgers University Press.

Now retired, Rosenbaum went on to a long career as a researcher with the Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, where much of her work continued to focus on gender and narcotic use, especially the possibilities of methadone. She served as the Director for the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance from 1995-2008, where she took early and courageous stands in favor of harm reduction, marijuana legalization, and honest, science-based drug education for teens.

I caught up with Rosenbaum recently to celebrate the anniversary of WOH and discuss what lessons it might offer to feminist drug historians—including historians of the current opioid crisis.

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Points Interview Flashback: David Courtwright

Editor’s note: In conjunction with the release yesterday of the paperback version of The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business (Belknap, 2021), Points is re-running this June 2019 interview with author David Courtwright. Points author interviews begin with the set question: “Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.” David Courtwright …

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Points Interview: David Farber

Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Professor David Farber, the author of CRACK: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Farber is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor at University of Kansas, and is a historian of modern America. His previous books include Everybody Ought to Be Rich: The Life and Times of John J. Raskob, Capitalist; Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam and Chicago ’68.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I’ve written a history of the crack cocaine years. In the 1980s and 1990s, crack crews took over swathes of poor, disproportionately Black urban neighborhoods. They set up 24/7 open-air drug markets. In those communities, suffering from the ravages of de-industrialization and the pain of Reagan-era disinvestment, crack use became epidemic.

Across the United States, a moral panic took root. White, middle-class Americans feared that crack was coming for them, too. That moral panic contributed to draconian drug laws that accelerated the rise of mass incarceration in the United States.

Meanwhile, crack kingpins got rich (at least for a while), Gangsta Rap artists celebrated their exploits, and mainstream American society found one more reason to harden its heart against its poorest and most alienated members. The Crack Years changed America.

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