Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. He contributes to our Teaching Points series, which investigates the role of alcohol and drug history in the classroom.
Things have changed.
In February, I wrote what now seems like a rather whimsical preview of my newly fine-tuned version of a Drugs in American History course at Utica College in the Spring of 2020. About two weeks into that ill-fated semester, I highlighted the “enrollment crisis” in history programs, perhaps the central issue among academic historians in the last decade, and how the History Department at Utica College was attempting to retool its history major to appeal to students’ interest in their world. I then discussed the results of my course survey, which brought out the various issues in drug history that interested my students and that I was going to center the course on.
At the time, based on the interactions at the start of the term, I was very optimistic. My optimism rose as we explored David Courtwright’s Forces of Habit as the course’s foundational/theoretical framework over the first seven weeks of class. As the Covid-19 crisis rose to engulf us here in New York State, the class was about to make the transition from theory to research. Students had chosen a “drug category” and were preparing to use basic research tools, also introduced during the first half of the course, to create a 5 minute research presentation (and accompanying 5-7 page research paper) exploring one of the major themes from Courtwright’s book within their chosen category.