SHAD Interview: “Mexico, Shanghai, and Drug History’s Global Turn,” with Isaac Campos

Editor’s Note: Starting today, we’re going to run a 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. This is a particularly exciting issue, which focuses on Mexico’s rich historical role in the field. It was led by Isaac Campos, the subject of today’s interview. You can see his article here. 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

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Isaac Campos

I’m an Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati. I’m trained in Mexican history and my main area of interest is the history of illicit drugs. I’ve published one book (Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs) and a number of articles on the subject.

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

Because the War on Drugs has been such a disastrous and mostly nonsensical approach to the problem of drug abuse, I’ve always been fascinated by how these policies came into being and how much support they were able to garner and maintain over many decades. And within that I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas surrounding drugs and how those ideas justify bad policy decisions.

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.

Screenshot 2020-05-25 11.38.08I’m the warm up act at the start of the show. I’m just setting the table in this issue for the great original research that follows by an exciting group of scholars who are mostly just starting their careers. I also provide a little overview of the long stretch of Mexican drug history to provide a little background and context for readers who may not be familiar with that history.  

Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?

Well it’s part of a larger project in that I’m always working on Mexican drug history. I’ve got a bunch of other stuff in the works right now. There are two digital humanities projects tracing the development of the discourse surrounding cannabis in U.S. newspapers during the 1910s and I’ve been working on another larger project about drugs in Mexico and the U.S. between 1910 and 1940.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the field of Mexican drug history is just getting closer to the present. There are some really talented people now working on the second half of the twentieth century. Professional historians are really only beginning to really analyze this history after the Second World War. So that is I think where some of the most exciting work will be emerging, as evidenced by some of the work we’re putting forward here. 

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. He’s a legend in Mexico. A psychiatrist from the 1920s-50s. A real character who famously designed a morphine monopoly in Mexico that got off the ground briefly in 1940. I’ve written about him in a couple of places. One of those essays is published (“A diplomatic failure: the Mexican role in the demise of the 1940 Reglamento Federal de Toxicomanías”) and the other is forthcoming. I’d have a lot of questions for him for sure!

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