AMS 390 • Cultural History of Alcohol and Drugs
2:00 PM-5:00 PM
About 25 years ago, the public policy analyst Troy Duster argued that alcohol--and implicitly all drugs--was to society what dye was to microscopy. That is, it served to bring into focus important and often hidden parts of the organism. In just the most obvious contemporary example, the issue of the decriminalization of drugs brings issues of race, class, age, and individual rights to the forefront as well as such philosophical and ideological debates as free will vs. determinism, the power of the state vs. individual freedom, and the power and rights of the majority vs. that of minorities. Moreover, drugs have provided such insights throughout history. One major reason for the extraordinary utility of drugs for cultural analysis is their social construction. Just as individuals attitudes and behavior toward drugs differ and even change through time, so do that of cultures. A behavior such as opium smoking which was perfectly acceptable in the late 19th century is today regarded with horror, while other actions such as drinking are accepted and even valued today while being criminally prohibited only 65 years ago. Our goal throughout the course is not so much to study drugs, drug use, and Americans reaction to them as to examine American society through them. In line with this, the course reading is aggressively interdisciplinary and papers (and students) from all disciplines and approaches are welcomed. The reading list will contain works of political, social, and cultural history, public policy, oral history, ethnography, literary criticism, autobiographies, sociology, media studies, and psychology and try to raise as many issues and suggest as many possible paper topics as possible. The goal of the course is for each student to produce a near-publishable paper.
Required Reading: Article Packet available from Paradigm Books Michael Massing The Fix Phillippe Bourgeois In Search of Respect Joseph Spillaine Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace Sadie Plant Writing on Drugs Peter Thompson Rum Punch and Revolution Caroline Knapp DrinkingA Love Story Cassandra Tate Cigarette Wars Lori Rotskoff Love on the Rocks: Men, Women, and Alcohol in Post WWII America