The Points Interview: Ronny Spaans

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Ronny Spaans, Associate Professor in Nordic Literature at Nord University in Nordland, Norway. He also teaches Dutch at the University of Oslo. Here he discusses his new book, Dangerous Drugs: The Self-Presentation of the Merchant-Poet Joannes Six van Chandelier (1620-1695) (Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The bartender may already know that aquavit, gin and other spirits flavoured with spices and herbs, were seen as medicines in the Renaissance. But what he probably does not know, and probably will find interesting, is that there was a debate already in the 17th century about whether these “medicines” were dangerous to health. In addition, it probably would come as a surprise that in this debate, terms were used that we today attribute to drug abuse: addiction, hallucinations and moral dangers. And what makes it extra exciting, is that this debate was related to exotic substances. The debate about drugs in the 17th century has much in common with discussions we associate with the history of the spice trade, that is, spices as moral temptations. Exotic drugs could create hot desires in the body, fill you with madness, or make you think you were a king or deity, or they could give you divine insight into forbidden knowledge.

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The Points Interview: Danielle Giffort

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Danielle M. Giffort, assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Liberal Arts at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She’s the author of the new book Acid Revival: The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Quest for Medical Legitimacy (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. 

Acid Revival is about how a group of mental health professionals is trying to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy back into mainstream medicine and how they struggle with the past history of psychedelic drugs in medicine as they do this. My book looks at how these researchers grapple with this past by telling stories about what went wrong during the “first wave” of psychedelic therapy—a period stretching from the late 1940s to mid-1970s. And their stories all point the blame at one person: Timothy Leary, the infamous psychedelic researcher-cum-countercultural guru. 

For today’s researchers studying psychedelic therapy, Leary symbolizes what I call an “impure scientist”—a bad expert who does not respect and intentionally defies the boundaries of science. And in defying these boundaries, his presence supposedly had a polluting effect on the legitimacy of psychedelic therapy. So, researchers would tell me how Leary “contaminated” and “poisoned” psychedelic science. To contain that threat and offer an antidote to that poison, they perform as the Anti-Leary—a phrase I heard from several researchers. Another term bounced around was that they are “sober scientists.” So, essentially, the book tells a story about how, in the minds of contemporary psychedelic researchers, the misbehavior of an individual had contaminating effects on their whole scientific field—it boils down to a “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” story. 

But these boundaries between impure and sober scientists are porous. That’s the thing about boundaries—they aren’t given; they are constructed. The ways in which we draw lines in the sand between this or that is the result of struggle and those lines are subject to change across time and place. And the way that we see this happening in psychedelic science is this: these researchers push away from the pollution of the impure scientist by enacting the sober scientist persona, but at the same time, they still draw on the practices of the impure scientist. For example, among other things, they criticize Leary for failing to follow conventional scientific methods in his psychedelic research, so they actively work to follow the kind of hypothesis-testing methods that grant scientific credibility. But at the same time, they actively incorporate Leary’s insights about the psychedelic experience into their therapeutic models. Leary is so central to their stories and to the revival because he is the site of the continuities and divergences between the first and current waves of research. And from this discussion, I hope readers learn more about not just the history of psychedelic science but about how the ways in which people construct reality has real effects on their actions.  

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The Points Interview: Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, editors of the new book Border Policing: A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (University of Texas Press, 2020). Karibo is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Díaz is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

(Holly M. Karibo, left, and George T. Díaz, right)

The book is a series of essays on how efforts to police the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border have often failed. We’d tell our bartender that all this talk in the news about securing the border is both misleading and misinformed. Neither the U.S.-Canada or U.S.-Mexican border have ever been effectively secured.  The essays in the book show that border people have always found ways to subvert laws they didn’t like and the government’s best efforts often end up hurting innocent people.   Women used to smuggle liquor up their skirts in order to get around border agents and today it is something else.  The book shows the long history of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico trying numerous ways to police the border, and accomplishing some, but nowhere near all, the governments’ wanted.  

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The Points Interview: Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Lina Britto. Britto is a Colombian journalist and historian who teaches Latin American and Caribbean History at Northwestern University. She received a PhD in History from New York University, and was a postdoctoral and faculty fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. Her work was been published in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, NACLA, and El Espectador (Colombia), among others. Her book Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise came out in spring 2020 with University of California Press. She’s currently working on her second book project on the role of medicine, science and technology in the violent transition that her hometown Medellin, Colombia, underwent during the second half of the twentieth century, when it became one of the murder capitals of the world.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

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Dr. Lina Britto

Having worked as a waitress in NYC before I went to graduate school, I know how incredibly hard is to get the full attention of your bartender. I think my best chance would be to mention the most recognized pop culture icons of global drug history, namely Pablo Escobar and Scarface. I’d say my book tells the story of the Colombian smugglers and American hippies who flooded the United States with marijuana a decade before suppliers like Escobar in Medellín and wholesalers like Scarface in Florida did the same with cocaine. It’s a forgotten story of how small-scale smugglers, during the golden years of the counterculture, paved the way for a more entrepreneurial and violent approach to the international commerce of drugs, and why such a transition wreaked havoc in the Americas.

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Points Interview: “Sacred Places, Sacred Plants, and Sacred People: Carving Out an Indigenous Right amid the Drug Wars,” with Alexander Dawson

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Alexander Dawson. Dawson holds a PhD in Latin American History from SUNY Stony Brook, and is an Associate Professor of History …

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Points Interview: “The History of Inhalant Use in Mexico City, 1960–1980” with Sarah Beckhart

Editor’s Note:We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Sarah Beckhart, a doctoral candidate in the history department at Columbia University. For a short while, you can read Beckhart’s article for free here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 7.19.02 PMI was born and raised in Mexico City and lived there until I left for college. When I got to college, I felt I was always missing Mexico. I took a Latin American history class to feel closer to home. I also thought that I already knew everything about Latin America, and so the class would afford me an easy A. I was wrong. I realized I wanted to learn more about Mexico and Latin America. I have followed that passion and will soon be graduating with a PhD in History that focuses on Latin America from Columbia University in the Fall. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

It was an archival accident.  I was in Mexico City doing preliminary research on what was going to be a dissertation on urban history in Mexico City in the 1960s and 1970s. In the archives I came across boxes full of files on drug use among Mexican minors in this period. I was surprised that there was so much concern on behalf of Mexican authorities for Mexican drug use and I wanted to know more. Of course, the reality of my country also made me more interested in understanding how domestic drug use shaped Mexico’s current drug policy. 

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Points Interview: “Taking the War on Drugs Down South: The Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico (1973–1980),” with Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart. Ricart is an assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and a postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in International Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. His research has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Global Governance, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Historia Mexicana, Foro Internacional, Frontera Norte, Contextualizaciones Latinoamericanas, Kriminologisches Journal and others. His forthcoming book (Penguin Random House) explores the activities of US drug law enforcement agents in Mexico.

You can see Ricart’s article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

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Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

I was born in Mexico City in 1987. I am currently assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and have been working as postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford for the last three years. I hold a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in international Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. 

I consider myself a political scientist with a strong interest in history. While I haven’t had any formal training as an historian, I have been working with archive documents for more than a decade. I also prefer to get involved in historical discussions rather than in finding statistical significance in regression models. And I prefer drinking beer with historians rather than political scientists.

Having said that, I am a fervent follower of the idea of placing politics in time described by Paul Pierson. I believe that the Historic Turn in Social Science should mean not only the “study of the past” or the “hunt for illustrative material” but the “exploration of the temporal dimension of social processes”. This exploration can’t be done without some degree of political science theory. In that sense, I am happy to balance on the line between politics and history. 

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Points Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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