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Teaching Points: “Drugs in U.S. History”

Updated: Aug 29

Around the beginning and end of every semester (summer included), we feature syllabi, instructional materials, and instructor reflections on courses related to topics of interest to Points readers. Below, you’ll find the syllabus for “Drugs in U.S. History,” a summer course taught this year by Kyle Bridge at the University of Florida. In a few weeks, like those who came before him, he will publish a reflection on Points, thoroughly detailing the progression of the course, from planning, assigning, and evaluating student work to connecting themes developed in class to his own research. Stay tuned!

AMH 3931: Drugs in United States History

Instructor: Kyle Bridge (

Course meets: [redacted]

Office hours: [redacted]

Course objectives: Upon successful completion of this course, students will understand the complex role played by drugs in American society, beginning with the construction of drug debates and the evolving definitions of key concepts like “drug” or “addiction.” They will be able to identify and explain historical contexts of drug use, to critically analyze cultures of control that have developed around different substances (including in the criminal justice system but also the addiction treatment field), and to articulate and assess challenges to those cultures through measures including drug legalization, medicalization, and harm reduction.

Attendance: Attendance is not required but is highly recommended. In-class discussion is essential for understanding the material and completing take-home assignments, but also because your grade is partially determined by pop quizzes and participation in class.

Reading: Before you come to class, make sure to complete the reading assignment listed on that date. Each is available on the course webpage. Be prepared to discuss or be quizzed on the material every day, which will help you think about longer writing assignments throughout the semester.

Grading: Final grades consist of two 3-page papers worth 20 points each (40 points total), one 4-page paper worth 25 points, three in-class lecture and reading quizzes worth 5 points each (15 points total), participation worth 10 points, and a short 2-page reflection paper worth 10 points.

Letter grades are based on the following scale: A: 93-100, A-: 90-93, B+: 87-89, B: 83-86, B-: 80-82, C+: 77-79, C: 73-76, C-: 70-72, D+: 67-69, D: 63-66, D-: 60-62, E: below 60. See UF’s GPA breakdown here:

Requirements for class attendance and make-up exams, assignments, and other work in this course are consistent with UF policies that can be found at:

Assignments: Throughout the semester, you will have four options for topical paper assignments (3 pages); their due dates are noted on the course schedule and the prompts and formatting details are available on the course webpage. You must complete TWO of these four prompts and submit them in class on the corresponding date. You do not have to inform me of your choices before you begin writing, though I am happy to review drafts or discuss your work up to 48 hours before the due date. If you are dissatisfied with a topical paper grade, you may consult with me about completing a third topical paper and dropping the lowest grade among them. (Note: you can only complete a third paper if there are any left to write, so start working early!) Each paper is worth 20 points.

Also throughout the semester, I will administer four pop quizzes on subjects covered in reading but mostly in lecture. They may be assigned anytime in class. Each quiz consists of five questions worth 1 point each. I will drop a quiz with the lowest grade from your final grade, for a total of 15 possible points.

In week 4, you will write a longer (4 pages) analysis of an article about opioid addiction and the framing of drug problems. Like your topical papers, the prompt is online and I’m happy to help with your work more than 48 hours in advance of the due date (June 8). This paper is worth 25 points.

In week 6, you will write a short (2 pages) reflection paper based on a prompt I will distribute more than a week in advance of the due date (June 21). This paper is worth 10 points.

Participation is measured through in-class discussion, completion of work assigned in and out of class, and apparent engagement with the material.

Academic honesty: UF students are bound by The Honor Pledge which states, “We, the members of the University of Florida community, pledge to hold ourselves and our peers to the highest standards of honor and integrity by abiding by the Honor Code. On all work submitted for credit by students in this class, the following pledge is required: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in doing this assignment.” The Honor Code ( specifies a number of behaviors that are in violation of this code and the possible sanctions. Furthermore, you are obligated to report any condition that facilitates academic misconduct to appropriate personnel. If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with the instructor or in this class.

Disability accommodations: Students with disabilities requesting accommodations should first register with the Disability Resource Center (352-392-8565, by providing appropriate documentation. Once registered, students will receive an accommodation letter which must be presented to the instructor when requesting accommodation. Students with disabilities should follow this procedure as early as possible in the semester.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Concepts in the History of Drug Use

May 14, 2018

Topic: Syllabus review

Reading: None

May 15, 2018

Topic: What is a drug?

Reading: Howard S. Becker, “Drugs: What Are They?” (2001)

David Dingelstad et al., “The Social Construction of Drug Debates,” Social Science & Medicine43, no. 12 (December 1996): 1829-1838

May 16, 2018

Topic: Is food a drug?

Reading: Michael Moss, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” New York Times, February 20, 2013

May 17, 2018

Topic: What is addiction?

Reading: David Courtwright, “The NIDA Brain Disease Paradigm: History, Resistance, and Spinoffs,” Biosocieties 5, no. 1 (2010): 131-147

May 18, 2018

Topic: Addiction and capitalism

Reading: David Herzberg, “Blockbusters and Controlled Substances: Miltown, Quaalude, and Consumer Demand for Drugs in Postwar America,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42, no. 4 (2011): 415-426

Week 2: Social Contexts of Drug Use and Regulation

May 21, 2018

Topic: Tobacco and the “American Century”

Reading: Allan M. Brandt, “From Nicotine to Nicontrol: Addiction, Cigarettes, and American Culture,” in Altering American Consciouness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004)

**Food/Drug paper due (1/4)**

May 22, 2018

Topic: Tobacco use and scientific “consensus”

Reading: Robert Proctor, “Consensus, Hubris, and Duplicity,” in Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 224-252

May 23, 2018

Topic: Alcohol use and Prohibition

Reading: Emily Remus, “Tippling Ladies and the Making of Consumer Culture: Gender and Public Space in Fin-de-Siècle Chicago,” Journal of American History 101, no. 3 (2014): 751-777

May 24, 2018

Topic: Patterns of opiate exposure

Reading: Charles Earle, “The Opium Habit: A Statistical and Clinical Lecture,” Chicago Medical Review 2 (1880): 442-446

Caroline Jean Acker, “Introduction,” in Creating the American Junkie: Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control (Boston: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 1-9

Harold Finestone, “Cats, Kicks, and Color,” Social Problems 5, no. 1 (1957): 3-13

May 25, 2018

Topic: Crack and the American city

Reading: Caroline Jean Acker, “How Crack Found A Niche in the Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm,” Biosocieties 5, no. 1 (2010): 70-88

**Legal Trajectories paper due (2/4)**

Week 3: Creating, enforcing, and assessing drug policy

May 29, 2018

Topic: How should we think about drug policy?

Reading: Joseph F. Spillane, “Historians and Harm: Toward a More Thoughtful Appraisal of Policy Consequences,” LSE Ideas Special Report: Governing the Global Drug Wars 14 (2012): 31-36

May 30, 2018

Topic: Origins of national drug policy

Reading: David Herzberg, “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 91, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 586-623

May 31, 2018

Topic: Midcentury policing and the Lexington Narcotic Farm

Reading: Janet Clark, sections from The Fantastic Lodge

June 1, 2018

Topic: Drug policy and mass incarceration

Reading: Donna Murch, “Who’s to Blame for Mass Incarceration?” Boston Review (2015)

Michael J. Fortner, “Historical Method and the Noble Lie,” Boston Review (2015)

Week 4: Addiction as a social problem

June 4, 2018

Topic: Addiction treatment modalities

Reading: Claire D. Clark, “‘Chemistry is the New Hope’: Therapeutic Communities and Methadone Maintenance, 1965-1971,” Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 26, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 192-216

**Unintended Consequences? paper due (3/4)**

June 5, 2018

Topic: Cultural contexts of addiction treatment

Reading: Helen Hansen and Samuel K. Roberts, “Two Tiers of Medicalization: Methadone, Buprenorphine, and the Racial Politics of Addiction Treatment,” in Critical Perspectives on Addiction: Advances in Medical Sociology 14 (Bingley: Emerald, 2012)

June 6, 2018

Topic: How should we think about the ongoing opioid “crisis”?

Reading: Andrew Kolodny et al., “The Prescription Opioid and Heroin Crisis: A Public Health Approach to an Epidemic of Addiction,” Annual Review of Public Health 36 (2015): 559-574

June 7, 2018

No class! Work on your papers.

June 8, 2018

Topic: Paper discussion

Reading: none

**Opioid Crisis paper due**

Week 5: Current legal and medical use debates

June 11, 2018

Topic: Marijuana use and early regulation

Reading: Adam Rathge, “Road to Prohibition: Marijuana, the Long Story – Part One,” Points, October 16, 2014

Adam Rathge, “Why is Marijuana Illegal? A Historical View – Part Two,” Points, October 28, 2014

June 12, 2018

Topic: Marijuana legalization, then and now

Reading: Emily Dufton, “Parents, Peers, and Pot: The Rise of the Drug Culture and the Birth of the Parent Movement, 1976-1980,” Trans-Scripts 3 (2013): 211-236

June 13, 2018

Topic: Problems in marijuana legalization

Reading: Jonathan P. Caulkins et al., “Options and Issues Regarding Marijuana Legalization,” RAND Perspective (2015): 1-15

June 14, 2018

Topic: What is LSD?

Reading: Steven J. Novak, “LSD Before Leary: Sidney Cohen’s Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research,” in Altering American Consciousness

June 15, 2018

Topic: Is legalization inevitable?

Reading: TBD

**Is Legalization Inevitable? paper due (4/4)**

Week 6: Who knows most about drugs?

June 18, 2018

Topic: Feminism, birth control, and the medicalization of life

Reading: David Herzberg, “‘The Pill You Love Can Turn On You’: Feminism, Tranquilizers, and the Valium Panic of the 1970s,” American Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2006): 79-103

June 19, 2018

Topic: Everyday drug use and “functional addiction”

Reading: Peter D. Kramer, “Introduction,” in Listening to Prozac (1993)

June 20, 2018

Topic: Your brain on drugs

Reading: TBD

June 21, 2018

Topic: Course reflection

Reading: None!

**Reflection paper due**

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