The War on Drugs: From Book to Website

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Dr. David Farber, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Modern U.S. History at the University of Kansas. He is the editor of the recently published, War on Drugs: A History (NYU Press, 2021).

Over the last 36-and-a-half years I have done what research-oriented history professors of my generation were supposed to do: I wrote books and published articles. What I did not do—until now—was produce a website. Defying the ageist canard about old dogs and new tricks—albeit admittedly in collaboration with my much younger colleagues Clark Terrill and Marjorie Galelli—I’m happy to report that the War on Drugs Project website is now live.

This pedagogically-oriented site—with resources for teachers, students, and readers—is a spin-off of the War on Drugs book that I worked on with an all-star cast of drug historians. The original plan, though, did not include a website. At the beginning, all I knew was that I wanted to have a bunch of drug historians come to the University of Kansas in April 2020 for a weekend conversation to see if we could collaborate and produce a book about the history of the war on drugs.

War on Drugs Project

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Teaching Points: Transforming a Survey Course and Improving Student Research

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.  The Teaching Points series investigates the role of alcohol, drug, and pharmaceutical history in the classroom.

When I first started teaching in 2009, I assigned my class a research project. With absolutely no classroom experience beyond my own, I naively assumed that students just kind of knew how to do research, and I quickly grew frustrated with the poor results. From that point on, I decided to forego “independent” research entirely in my classes and instead to focus on providing a “guided tour” of the material, providing students with textbooks, articles, and/or primary sources and requiring a mix (over the years) of exams, quizzes, analytical essays, and/or source analyses. Unable to spend sufficient class time explaining the research process or troubleshooting issues, I reasoned that the efficacy of a research project in a survey course would always be undermined by my students’ limited exposure to proper research methods.

In subsequent years, I continued teaching under this assumption. But, coinciding with my transition to a PhD program at Albany and my TA responsibilities, I also increased my efforts to explore how others instructors taught their survey courses, and I continued to make adjustments to my own teaching based on knowledge gained at conferences and in professional journals, newsletters, and magazines. I encountered two appealing strategies. The first is the idea of the flipped classroom, where the activities that typically take place in a classroom and those activities usually occurring outside the classroom are flipped. The second are strategies that stress digital literacy (a topic covered recently on Points by Stephen Siff) to help future citizens confront the information dump that they see every day online.

Combining these two strategies, I thought, would provide the ideal model for teaching real-world “research skills” during class time. On this forum (so long ago) I dreamed of one day flipping my classroom, but I lamented the prep-time required—particularly for a doctoral student and later an adjunct. I could, and did, adjust for prioritizing digital literacy, but the flipped classroom remained just that, a dream.

Then the pandemic came, and everything changed.

Beach August Teaching Points Title Card
Left: Sample student research subject, “Why did the Reagan Administration show Just Say No Ads with the likes of NFL and MTV Stars?” Image of Nancy Reagan accepting a “Just Say No” jersey from quarterback Doug Williams in 1988 courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

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Teaching Points: Lesson Plan in Truth, Lies, and Anti-Drug Propaganda

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Stephen Siff, an Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University of Ohio. He is the author of Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience (University of Illinois Press, 2015).

I teach media literacy in introductory journalism and mass communication classes at Miami University of Ohio. My recent research explores the history of US anti-drug propaganda campaigns. I was happy when these interests collided over the summer in conjunction with the publication of my article, “‘Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?’: Richard Nixon’s National Mass Media Campaign Against Drug Abuse” in Journalism and Communication Monographs. As supplementary material for my article, I have also provided readers access to a digital lecture about 1970s anti-drug ads, a lesson plan, and two primary source/discussion exercises.

1970s Ad Council Anti-Drug Ad
1970s Ad Council anti-drug advertisement discussed in my powerpoint presentation.

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This is Your Brain on Critical Consciousness: Countering Drug War Propaganda with Critical Information Literacy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the first in a three-part series on “Teaching the Drug War” that will run throughout this month and into January 2021. It comes from Sarah Baranauskas, who works at the University of Colorado Boulder and lives in Lyons, Colorado. You can follow her on Twitter @sandequation or check out the podcast she co-hosts What the Folk Pod.

There’s a famous quote from former Nixon administration advisor John Erhlichman that serves as a stark illustration of how a major aspect of the U.S. “war on drugs” has been a war on information. As he was quoted in Dan Baum’s 2016 piece in Harper’s:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” [emphasis added]

As misinformation (and outright propaganda) have been features of the drug war from day one, as well as the suppression of research resulting from prohibition, I see clear intersections between my work as an academic librarian and as an advocate for drug policy reform. For starters, two of the major ethical foundations of my profession are intellectual freedom and access to information. These ethics inform all aspects of librarianship, from front-line circulation services to collection development. In my role providing undergraduate information literacy instruction, which includes supporting classes that study drug policy and the therapeutic or medicinal applications of psychoactive substances, I see opportunities not only to uphold these professional ethics, but also to provide pedagogical resistance to the (mis)information tactics of the drug war.

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