Points Interview: Wolfgang Sachsenröder

Today’s post features an interview with Dr Wolfgang Sachsenröder, in which he discusses his latest book, ‘From Opium to Methamphetamines: The Nine Lives of the Drug Industry in Southeast Asia‘ (World Scientific, 2022), and shares some personal reflections. Sachsenröder holds a PhD in Political Science and Public Law from the University of Bonn, Germany, and is an expert in Southeast Asian studies.

Read more

From King of Opium Substitutes to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson

This article is an abstract of Patrick Chiu’s forthcoming book “Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson” due to release at the end of May 2022. Pre-ordering at the Amazon Books is available or World Scientific with the discount code WSASOC20, valid until September 30, 2022.

Read more

From Roses and Indigo to Opium: The Enigma of Ghazipur

Editor’s Note: In this post, Dr Kawal Deep Kour shows the how the waning markets for rose attar and indigo positioned Ghazeepore, India, to take advantage of the emerging market for opium, and how attitudes towards production changed during the 19th century in response to the changing landscape of labor and colonialism.


Nestled within the orthogenetic city of Benaras, India, Ghazeepore (of the 19th century) was much like an entrepot or emporia without the spirit and brilliance of the former. Ghazeepore, developed independently though its attachment as a hinterland of Benaras, was valuable to the long-term growth under the British raj. But it was the accumulation of interconnected stories, as the social histories of roses, indigo and opium reveal, that facilitated the evolution of Ghazeepore as an influential city by the early 19th century.

Read more

The Complicated Legacy of James E. Brown (c. 1802–1853), Liberian Colonial Apothecary

Editor’s Note: From the Collections is a new feature at Points that highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from AIHP publications and collections. In honor of Black History Month, Points Managing Editor Greg Bond revisits his two-part 2018 Pharmacy in History article about Liberian Colonial Apothecary James E. Brown. Read the full articles (Part 1 and Part 2) at JSTOR.

James Brown Ad
Colonial Apothecary James Brown’s 1834 advertisement in the Liberia Herald as reprinted in The African Repository, September 1834.

In the May 4, 1834, edition of the Liberia Herald, James E. Brown, the newly arrived Colonial Apothecary, placed an advertisement announcing his new business:

J. Brown, Druggist and Apothecary, late of Washington City, respectfully informs the citizens of Liberia, that he has taken the house formerly occupied by W.L. Weaver, Esq. in Broad Street, where he is now opening an extensive assortment of Drugs and Medicines, imported in brig Argus, from the United States, which he offers for sale on reasonable terms.” [1]

Over the previous two years, Brown had completed a pharmacy apprenticeship under the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), making him one of the earliest known formally trained African American pharmacists or health professionals.

Brown had many friends in the United States who eagerly awaited updates after his departure. Finally, in August 1834, the National Daily Intelligencer, a leading Washington, DC, newspaper reported Brown’s arrival in Africa:

Many of your city readers will remember James Brown, a colored man, formerly resident here, and universally esteemed as one of the most intelligent and industrious men of color amongst us. He left this city for Liberia in November last… It will, doubtless, gratify his friends, and the friends of the colonization cause to hear of his well-doing. We have to-day seen a letter from him, in which he expressed his great satisfaction with the country and his prospects.” [2]

For the next two decades, Brown tended to the pharmaceutical and medical needs of Liberian colonists, proselytized for his new homeland, and held a series of powerful political positions.

Brown’s remarkable career—and complicated legacy—however have been little remembered. He was one of the first African Americans to receive formal health sciences training in the United States, but he was a vocal life-long supporter of the extremely controversial colonization movement. He strongly advocated for African American freedom, justice, and self-determination, but he failed to extend the same principles to the native Africans he encountered in Liberia. This post provides a brief introduction to the life and times of James E. Brown, Colonial Apothecary.

Read more

Incomparable? George Floyd, Adama Traoré, and the War on Drugs in the Sister Republics

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore.

Screenshot 2020-07-07 at 6.54.53 AM

In late May massive protests erupted in the U.S. and France in response to police brutality against people of color. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May, which compounded tensions already heightened by the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery weeks earlier, prompted demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S., many of them met by militarized police units deploying flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets in the name of “law and order.” In France, the government’s official denial on 29 May of an appeal for justice by the family of Adama Traoré, murdered by French police in July 2016, sparked a protest at Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris, where 20,000 people chanted the shared last words of Floyd and Traoré in French, “Je n’arrive pas à respirer.” A key organizer of the protests, Assa Traoré (Adama’s sister), declared in a speech, “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré (…) What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”

Though the similarities between the lives and deaths of Traoré and Floyd are many and striking, the French government, through its spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye, officially declared that the men’s deaths and resulting mass demonstrations were “not exactly comparable, neither in terms of history nor in terms of the organization of society.” In France, Ndiaye argued, “there is no instituted state violence.” President Emmanuel Macron also chimed in, arguing on 10 June that universities were to blame for “ethnicizing the social question” for financial gain, radicalizing students, and “breaking the Republic in two.” 

While there have been comparably fewer deaths in police custody in France in recent decades, drug policing in the Hexagon, as in the U.S., is deeply rooted in the nation’s colonial past. And the cases of Floyd and Traoré, and 1000s of others who suffered similar fates, are unfortunately the latest chapters in the still-unfolding histories of colonial policing in both republics.

Read more

Reefer Madness in France: Part II

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

One of the earliest cases of “arab aliené: folie hasishique” I’ve found thus far in my research is from Algiers in the summer of 1857. On August 22 of that year, a twenty-year-old Muslim man called Soliman-ben-Mohammed attacked a crowd of Jewish Algerians gathered in the city’s central market for the Sabbath, wounding seven and killing one. Eyewitnesses described the killer as being “crazed by a fury” and “prey to unspeakable exasperations” as he wildly clubbed the fleeing crowd of men, women, and children. It was only when a group of nearby Frenchmen, “hearing the cries of the victims, seized the madman and disarmed him,” bringing the violent scene to a close.[1]

Screenshot 2019-06-27 09.13.57The most comprehensive record of the event and trial is found in a series of articles published in the Medical Gazette of Algeria in September of 1857 by Dr.’s Alphonse Bertherand and Noël-Eugène Latour, both with the French army and Civil Hospital in Algiers.[2] During his interrogation Soliman stated that he neither remembered the attack nor recognized his victims. He recalled leaving work earlier that day, smoking kif and drinking wine and anisette for several hours at a café in Algiers. He even recalled getting into a small altercation with several Jewish patrons at that café.  But, “visibly regretful and shedding tears,” Soliman again and again claimed he never intended to kill anyone and remembered nothing of the fatal attack.[3] 

Read more

L’Affaire Sarah Halimi and “Reefer Madness” in Postcolonial France: Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

In early April 2017, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year old Malian immigrant, murdered an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman named Lucie “Sarah” Attal-Halimi in the Belleville neighborhood of northeastern Paris. Neighbors who witnessed the attack told police that Traoré appeared “crazed,” repeatedly called Halimi a “Jewish devil,” and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and Koranic verses as he violently beat her, then threw her from a 4-story window to her death. After his arrest Traoré claimed he remembered nothing from the night in question and felt “possessed by a demonic force” after “smoking too much cannabis” throughout the day leading up to the assault.

Screenshot 2019-05-30 08.36.02
Sarah Halimi, from The Times of Israel

In the now over two years since Halimi’s murder, the French court has wavered in its official opinions on Traoré’s sanity and thus criminal culpability. Initially, François Molins, prosecutor in Paris’s second district, argued that the attack did not constitute an anti-Semitic hate crime and declared Traoré unfit for trial as a result of an acute episode of cannabis-induced psychosis, a decision he largely based on an initial and somewhat ambiguous psychiatric evaluation produced by Dr. Daniel Zagury, the same psychiatrist who established the legal culpability of Salah Abdselam, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, and dozens of other ISIS-inspired and -trained terrorists detained in France.[1] In his report, Zagury wrote, “Today, it is common to observe, during delusional outbreaks…in subjects of the Muslim religion, an anti-Semitic theme: The Jew is on the side of evil, of the devil. What is usually a prejudice turns into delusional hatred.” Traoré’s murder of Halimi, he thus concluded, “constituted a delusional if anti-Semitic act.”[2]

Read more

Points Bookshelf: “A Thirst for Empire” by Erika Rappaport

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia , professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her review is part of the Points Bookshelf project, in which we review books about alcohol and drug history. 

Screenshot 2019-05-21 at 8.55.11 AMThe history of tea has been told many times by scholars and by connoisseurs. Firmly situated within the academic historiography but as beautifully illustrated as a work of art is Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press, 2017). Through the vehicle of transnational commodity history, Rappaport draws together micro-dramas such as Indian soldiers drinking tea with English nurses in a British mosque in World War II (an incident depicted on the cover and the inspiration for the introductory anecdote), within the macro context of empire-building, nation formation and global capitalist development from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.

The book consists of three sections. Part I, “Anxious Relations,” examines the incorporation of tea into the early modern British economy and culture. Part II, “Imperial Tastes,” looks at producers and consumers in the tea market in Great Britain and its empire from the late Victorian era through World War II. Finally, “Imperial Aftertastes” explores the impacts of decolonization and the end of the geopolitical hegemony of Great Britain on the global tea industry. Given the relative dearth of scholarship on tea in contemporary times (especially compared with the exhaustive historiography on the early modern and imperial periods), it is regrettable that Part III is the shortest in the book.  

Read more