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 at SUNY Albany. Until 2017 he was Professor of History and International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of four books and numerous articles, and for most of his career has written about indigeneity and indigenous-state relations in Mexico.  His most recent book is titled The Peyote Effect: From the Inquisition to the War on Drugs, and was published by the University of California Press in 2018.

You can see Dawson’s article here for free for a limited time. 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. Alexander Dawson

I was trained as a historian of Mexico. I don’t always realize this as I am researching and writing, but my work invariably focuses on inequality. For many years that was inequality in Mexico, but in the past decade or so my focus has spread, as I have tried to link what I understand about Mexico to a larger concern about where we are heading as a planet.

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

I came to drugs (and especially peyote) inadvertently. I was working on a project comparing the experiences of indigenous peoples in Mexico and the US (the project was going to be about boarding schools) when I came across a file titled “peyote” in the US National Archives. As I read the file, I realized that I could do a much more interesting project on peyote than on the boarding schools, and began a decade long project that resulted in my 2018 book from the University of California Press. Along the way, I realized that the history of drugs represents a really important and fascinating window into the history of race, science, the law, and society more generally.

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

I think you underestimate the average bartender. They tend to be very good listeners, and are extraordinarily good at not looking bored, even when they are. But if I were to attempt to explain it to someone who really did not care, I would say that there is this word, “sacred”, that we use a lot these days, especially in the context of environmental activism. We all think we know what it means, but if we really look closely at how we are using it, we might not be so comfortable with what we see. What we see has troubling implications both for how we think about environmentalism, and the way we place indigenous peoples into the environmentalist movement.

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

Screenshot 2020-06-10 11.06.45This is more like a loose end that I did not resolve in a larger book project that I just completed. Well, not just that. In the book I tell a number of stories about peyote and race, about the border and its history, but I never really got a chance to fully think through this particular theme. In writing a paper about it, I realized I had a little more to say.

My new project is a little different. It picks up on the environmentalist aspects of this work, as well as the transnational interest, but the book is about bike lanes. Specifically, the book is about the controversies that surround the creation of bike lanes, and what they can tell us for the nature of contemporary environmentalist practices.

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

Well, I think there are a lot of different frontiers in the field. Obviously, we are still in a moment where the connection between drug history and decriminalization is critical. This is especially from a Latin Americanist standpoint, as scholars working in these fields play a central role in reminding readers in the principle consumption markets of the costs associated with the Drug Wars. Social history makes the victims of these conflicts more visible.

More than this though, I think that those who work on psychedelics like peyote have an important role to play in re-centering these substances as a part of alternative therapeutic practices. The work being done by historians in these fields is critical in both de-stigmatizing these substances and in generating better understandings of how prohibitions came to be during the 20th century.

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

I am a bad person to answer this question. I don’t really like to talk to strangers, and when I do, especially if they are someone I want to impress, I am more likely to say something that makes me look like an idiot than I am to have a good time. I like to have dinner, I love to have dinner, with my teachers, in particular Paul Gootenberg, Barbara Weinstein, and Brooke Larson. I may look like an idiot talking to them too, but I trust that they won’t tell anyone.

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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SHAD Interview: “A Small Distinction with a Big Difference: Prohibiting “Drugs” but Not Alcohol, from the Conquest to Constitutional Law,” with José Domingo Schievenini

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. José Domingo Schievenini, whose article you can see here. Schievenini (PhD, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2018) is an assistant professor of history at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ). His research focuses on drug policy in Mexico and the history of drugs in Latin America. 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 and what got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

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Dr. José Domingo Schievenini

I am a Mexican historian. When I was an undergrad, a decade ago, my thesis attempted to explain why the use of medical marijuana was treated as a crime in Mexico. At that time, four states in the U.S. had already legalized the medical use of cannabis, and the scientific evidence in support of such use was overwhelming. Among other things, I chose this subject because it seemed irrational to me that the use of cannabis for medical purposes was a crime in Mexico. Undoubtedly, it was an injustice. There were even arguments to affirm that this prohibition was a crime, but not on the part of those who consumed marijuana, but rather an unconstitutional act on the part of the Mexican state. 

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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!

SHAD Interview: “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle,'” with Victoria Afanasyeva

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with an author from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Victoria Afanasyeva, a doctoral student at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle.'” 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Victoria Afanasyeva

I’m a Russian girl passionate about the French language and the archives. I started learning French when I was 15 and continued in the Kaluga State University, in my hometown. After finishing my studies, I started to work as a university French teacher and in parallel, I entered the French University College in Moscow to expand my horizons in sociology and history. Thanks to my history teacher, who was very invested and encouraging, I fell in love with archives papers and investigation process. I got a scholarship to come in France to finish my Master 2 degree in history, with a study project about Frenchwomen in the temperance movement during the Belle Époque. And today, I’m on the last line of my PhD dissertation about the history of Frenchwomen engaged in the temperance movement since 1835 until 2013. 

What got you interested in alcohol (and its history)?

In 2013, I was in my hometown library, thinking about a subject for Master 1 degree. I was looking through annual directories of Kaluga of the last 19th century when I found advertising for French alcohol. Literally amazed at the quantity and quality of wines and cognacs imported in my small city, which had about 50,000 people at this period, I thought that it would be interesting to analyze the evolution of the alcohol question in my region. 

One year later, I was looking for a scholarship project. Alcohol history in wine-drinking France attracted me, then I became particularly interested in the temperance movement. There were meager mentions about temperance women – especially about Maria Legrain – in academic studies (Nourrisson, Prestwich, Dargelos, Fillaut), whereas on-line archives revealed important and unexamined female activity.

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SHAD Interview: “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia,” with Maggie Brady

Editor’s Note: Today we finish our special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Dr. Maggie Brady, an honorary associate professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at Australian National University. She discusses her article, “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Dr. Maggie Brady

I was born in Bristol, England, from which I escaped to London and an office job at the BBC. After various explorations (traveling and working in southern Africa; working as a teacher; migrating to Australia) and after hearing an inspiring lecturer, I discovered anthropology. Fortuitously at the time I was a research assistant in a medical school’s psychiatry department in Adelaide, where I ended up participating in field work for a research project on juvenile ‘delinquency’ (as it was called then) and volatile solvent use (gasoline sniffing) among young Aboriginal people in a remote settlement on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia. At the time youths were sniffing leaded petrol and developing lead encephalopathy along with other health and social problems. The work with the medical team there enabled me to forge relationships with the Aboriginal community and subsequently I was able to pursue my own research project for a higher degree in anthropology. I learned so much in those first few years of ‘immersion’, even though I did not realise it at the time. Perhaps that’s what fieldwork of this sort is all about.  

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

Living in that particular community – of Aboriginal people who had been displaced from their land by atomic testing in the 1950s – I could not ignore their history, and the social distress manifesting in widespread gas sniffing among the young, and damaging, ‘heroic’ levels of drinking among the adults, particularly men.  Fifty percent of deaths in the community were alcohol-related. So, apart from engaging with the present situation (measuring alcohol-related harms, helping the community to restrict local supplies), I became interested in when this had all started. When and under what circumstances did these desert people first encounter strong drink? How did they respond? How did they describe it? What drug substances did they know prior to the arrival of Europeans? Did they know of fermentation? Did its absence protect them from ‘white man’s poison’ or make them more vulnerable to it? What was it about their history and social organisation that meant community members found it so difficult to intervene in alcohol abuse or sniffing among their own kin networks?    

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SHAD Interview: “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” with Steven Spencer

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Steven Spencer, author of “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk’: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” director of the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre in London, and an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

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Steven Spencer (Photo  ©Alistair Kerr, Creative Mongrel)

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

After completing an MA in history, I trained as an archivist at University College London in 2006-2008 and had worked in a range of archives before I came to work for The Salvation Army in 2009. I’m the Director of The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, where we hold archives, objects and books relating to the history of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s (and even earlier!) up to the present day. As the International Heritage Centre we hold material on The Salvation Army all over the world. 

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

My interest in the history of the temperance movement is relatively recent. The Salvation Army was invited by the University of Preston’s Demon Drink project to give a paper at their “Radical Temperance” conference in 2018. I presented a paper on the history of The Salvation Army’s stance on alcohol and my colleague gave a paper on The Salvation Army’s contemporary work in addressing alcoholism and continued commitment to abstinence from alcohol.

I must confess that up until this point, I hadn’t given much thought to the wider temperance movement but, as I began the research for my paper, I was absolutely fascinated by its scope and scale in the UK and USA in the C19th and early C20th. Temperance has been considered one of the most significant social campaigns of the period and became a mainstream political issue, culminating of course with prohibition in the USA. I also became aware of the absence of research on The Salvation Army’s total abstinence stance or on its role in the wider temperance movement.

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SHAD Interview: “‘A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904,” with Edward Armston-Sheret

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Edward Armston-Sheret, a historical geography PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of “’A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself. 

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Edward Armston-Sheret

I am a PhD student in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London. My research focuses on nineteenth-century British explorers and how they used their bodies in the field and represented them to domestic audiences.

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

When reading explorers’ accounts, I kept finding them use and talk about alcohol and drugs in ways that seemed totally alien to me. For instance, several polar explores talk about feeding their hypothermic ponies bottles of brandy or whiskey to warm them up (there is photo evidence—Google it!). This showed the degree to which some explorers genuinely thought that alcohol had warming qualities and sparked my curiosity in the subject. 

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As Armston-Sheret’s research shows, it’s probably not wise to actually force your pony to drink alcohol. 

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