Teaching Points: “Hooked: Addiction in American Culture”

Editor’s Note: This week brings the second installment in Points’ back-to-school series on teaching the history of alcohol and drugs.  Last week, Joseph Gabriel discussed using a History of Science approach to the topic in a seminar for medical students and PhD students in History.  This week, historian Michelle McClellan presents a more…well, point-ed approach in a class designed for undergraduates in a residential college setting.  Next week, guest blogger Sarah Carnahan of Ohio State University’s School of Social Work and Department of Women’s Studies will talk about “Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective.”

As an American historian, I have taught courses on the history of addiction at several institutions over the years.  While their subject may seem unusual or controversial to some, these classes followed a structure that is pretty typical for a history curriculum, tracing different substances chronologically through the last few centuries of American history.  Now I am jointly appointed in the History Department and the Residential College at the University of Michigan.  The Residential College (RC) is a “living-learning community”– an undergraduate liberal arts college within the larger university.  Although any University of Michigan students can take classes there, the RC has a self-conscious identity as an interdisciplinary college which fosters a special kind of student creativity and initiative.  Last year I taught a course on addiction which I deliberately located in the RC so that I could challenge myself to think about addiction in new ways and, I hoped, use addiction as a subject that would demonstrate to students the value of an interdisciplinary approach.  The syllabus follows.  Tune in tomorrow to see whether I succeeded in this endeavor.

Hooked: Addiction in American Culture

Michelle McClellan Endorses Moderate Drinking

Drinking, smoking, gambling, drug taking.  Although they might seem to be modern inventions, the “bad habits” have a long history in the United States.  Ministers, lawyers, politicians, physicians, and plenty of other “experts” have argued that they should be the ones to define what makes the bad habits so bad and what should be done about them.  Americans (and others around the world) have variously taxed, regulated, medicalized, punished, and celebrated participation in the bad habits.  In this course, we will trace the various ways that addiction has been conceptualized: as a sin or moral weakness; as a lack of will power; as a medical condition; even as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder.”  Readings will include works of historical analysis, as well as scientific and social scientific studies.  We will also explore representations of addiction and of addicts in popular culture, such as memoirs, films, and television shows.  The class format will include discussion of readings as well as some brief lectures for background and context.  Assignments will include short written responses to readings; two analytical essays; and a take-home final exam.

David T. Courtwright, Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World
Jack London, John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs
Peter Mancall, Deadly Medicine: Indians & Alcohol in Early America
Carol Groneman, Nymphomania: A History
David Herzberg, Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac
Nicholas Rasmussen, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine

Wednesday, January 5: Introduction to Course

Monday, January 10
Clancy W. Martin, “The Drunk’s Club: AA, the Cult That Cures,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2011 (CTools)
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “An Anti-Addiction Pill?” The New York Times Magazine, June 25, 2006 (CTools)
Courtwright, Forces of Habit, Part I

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Teaching Points: Culture, Medicine, & Society: Commentary on the Class

Editor’s Note: In the second part of our inaugural post to the “Teaching Points” series, Contributing Editor Joe Gabriel ruminates on teaching to both medical students and PhD candidates in the humanities.

Interventions in the Teaching of American Mediine

Yesterday I posted the syllabus to a class I taught for the history department here at Florida State. As I mentioned, I’m actually on faculty at the medical school and so I spend most of my time teaching medical students. If you haven’t done it, teaching medical students is incredibly rewarding – they are extremely hard working, very smart, and it’s gratifying to know that you might actually be helping them become better doctors. However, it’s also very nice for me to get the opportunity to interact with doctoral students in the humanities, as it allows for different types of conversations that just aren’t possible in the medical school.

As you’ll see from the syllabus, the course is an effort to provide a broad overview of the history of medicine in the United States. I tried to organize the class both chronologically and methodologically, with both earlier periods of history and more traditional approaches to the history of medicine being covered earlier in the course.  There are, I think, some problems with the syllabus. 

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Teaching Points: Culture, Medicine, & Society: A Graduate Course in the History of Medicine

Editor’s Note: Building on successful contributions by Eoin Cannon and Caroline Acker, Points this week inaugurates a five-part series that looks at teaching alcohol and drugs as history, culture, and policy issue.  Each week we’ll feature two posts on the topic: a complete syllabus, followed by the instructor’s comments, questions, and musings on the teaching experience.  Our aim in this as in all things Point-y is to share work in progress (and yeah, teaching counts!), generate new ideas, and converse across the stupid disciplinary and institutional barriers that the contemporary academic and policy worlds like to throw up around us.  Contributing Editor Joe Gabriel kicks of the series, bringing a History of Medicine perspective to the topic of “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” In the next few weeks, look for Michelle McClellan talking about “Hooked: Addiction and American Culture”; Sarah Carnahan on”Women and Addiction”; Rob Echeverria and Sid Issar on “Drug Hedonism”; and Bruce Bagley on “Drug Trafficking in the Americas.”

Totoro, Joe Gabriel's Favorite Avatar

I’ve been on faculty at the Florida State University College of Medicine for four years now, and while I primarily teach medical students I also occasionally have the opportunity to teach in the history department here at FSU. This is the syllabus to a graduate course I put together which I called “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” As you’ll see, the class is a broad overview of the history of medicine in the United States. A mix of graduate students from the history department and from the department of religion took the course, which provided for some very interesting conversations.

Much of the material we covered did not directly overlap with the topics we talk about on this blog. Some of it did – such as our discussions about the history of the pharmaceutical industry – but in general we didn’t spend a significant amount of time talking about drugs, and virtually none talking about alcohol. (The one class I had scheduled to talk about addiction we spent talking about Bruno Latour instead). However, I think the general approach of the course overlaps with some of the conversations we have been having here; one of the themes in the class, for example, is how to think about the relationship between brains, genes, microbes, and other parts of the “material world” and social and cultural “discourses,” such as those of race, gender, and nation. I’ll discuss some of the dynamics in the class around these issues, and how I think the class might be improved, in my next post. For the moment, here is the syllabus. I hope you enjoy it.

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