Q & A with Paul Gootenberg

Editors’ note: Paul Gootenberg’s recent guest post proposing some new directions for research into cocaine’s history generated some very useful comments.  Paul replied to these comments in the original post, and we’ve dug them up and posted them here:

Kawaldeep Kour: Thanks Dr. Gootenberg for the illuminating piece. It surely sets as a precedent for educators, academicians and scholars on the underlying need to disseminate research ideas which would not only facilitate greater intellectual engagement with issues you point out but also as you anticipate “fill a few more pieces of the puzzle.”

Gootenberg, Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug

Paul’s reply: KAWALDEEP—I hope professors openly share their research, their ideas, and questions, as knowledge should be a collective enterprise. But I’m also self interested: writing Andean Cocaine, convinced me that drug history is an exciting and serious field that I want to actively promote. Especially the surprisingly neglected area of Latin American drugs (surprising because of the oversized role of illicit drugs in many Latin American and inter-American contexts today).

Julia:  In your post you note that “A more social scientific study than mine might truly analyze these correlations (using price data and critically assessed seizure data) to probe the eternal drug policy chicken-or-egg question: which came first, the dangerous trades or repressive law?”  Is that really a chicken-or-egg question? As you say, there is a correlation between global prohibition and illicit activity from prior legal cocaine outlets. Is there really any doubt that it was the act of criminalizing the outlets that made them dangerous? There is a reason why the alcohol industry was dangerous during prohibition but not before or after.

Take Your Pick: Dangerous Trade or Repressive Law?

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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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Beyond Andean Cocaine: Excess Ideas for Further Cocaine Research

Editors’ Note: Graduate students, pay attention!  This guest post from SUNY-Stony Brook historian Paul Gootenberg lays out a series of dissertation-worthy research questions in cocaine’s modern history.  Readers of all sorts will observe that many of the unanswered questions have to do with trends in cocaine’s consumption.  Historical studies of consumer behavior (in the “drug” field, anyway) lag far behind studies of state policy or the construction of addiction/disease models.  Thanks to Paul–an outstanding historian of cocaine–for helping to take us further.

By now, I hope that many of you who follow this blog have read my 2009 book  Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug (UNC Press).  I urge those who haven’t to immediately buy it.  As an historian who put about fifteen years of my life into its research and writing, I have to admit being truly gratified by its reception by other drug historians, social scientists, world historians, fellow Latin Americanists and even a few stray drug-reform pundits. Reviewers and readers seem to grasp and keenly appreciate the book’s core aims: discovering new sources, actors, and narratives around the drug, putting them into a cohesive new global perspective, and tracing cocaine’s long-run transformation, from its rise as a novel world commodity in the 1880s to its descent into an illicit good and drug culture by the 1970s.  I hoped it would extend transnationally Joseph Spillane’s magnificent monograph on the turn-of-century United States, Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menance (Johns Hopkins, 2000), the book that pioneered serious historical scrutiny of cocaine after long neglect and mountains of cliche.  Or nuance with archival depth David Courtwright’s lucid world commodity treatment of drugs, Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (Harvard, 2001).

Take my research ideas...please!

So let me express my personal discontent with Andean Cocaine, which has less to do with its conceptual frames (which are bound to shift as more historians study the drug) and more to do with gaps and topics that could not be adequately addressed in the book’s admittedly grandiose global reach.  Andean Cocaine could only suggest where these topics might fit into the larger synthetic puzzle, based on the scant available evidence.  Attention all grad students eager to pursue drug-history dissertation topics (or any interested colleagues): these themes are ripe for further research!

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