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ADHS conference at Glasgow, June 2009: Report by David T. Courtwright

I promised a brief report on the Glasgow meeting of June 26-28. In reviewing my notes--necessarily fragmentary, because of the many concurrent sessions--I would say that the meeting more than lived up to its global billing.  More than forty speakers from a dozen countries presented papers on topics ranging from khat to cocaine. What most impressed me, though, was the variety of approaches. James Nicholls, for example, used political philosophy as a frame for prohibition history, showing how the policy evoked fundamental problems and tensions within the liberal tradition. Alex Kreit did something similar with the U.S. drug war by making explicit its contradictory impulses (reconcilable, I think, at the level of authoritarian psychology) to protect and punish the young. Aija Kaartinen used journalistic and voting evidence to reconstruct ethnocultural and gender patterns of support for and opposition to prohibition in Finland. Harry Yi-Jui Wu combined ethnographic and fragmentary epidemiological evidence to tell the story of alcoholism among indigenous Formosan peoples after World War II. Psychologist Bruce Alexander used ethnohistory and a natural experiment to argue that cultural destruction, not alcohol per se, was the real killer of indigenous Canadians. Rami Regavim looked at opium in Iran through the lens of economic history, stressing its production and its importance as a source of government revenue. Dan Malleck evoked Weber, Foucault, and the photographic record to interpret attempts to manage respectable drinking in Ontario in the 1930s and 1940s. I left the three-day meeting feeling as if I had just completed, on a crash-course basis, a particularly ambitious graduate methods seminar. I take this as a sign of the maturation of the field and its continued appeal across disciplines.

The business meeting was well attended. I reported that it was still uncertain where the next meeting would be held. A meeting in China is one possibility, if funding and other issues can be resolved; the University of Buffalo is another possibility, though it is only in the early stages of discussion. Dan Malleck reported on the status of the journal, solicited volunteers for the post of treasurer, and asked if anyone was interested in the possibility of starting an ADHS group blog. (A much fuller statement of this idea, prepared by Joseph Spillane, appears on the ADHS members' listserv. Joe would have made the presentation himself, but he could not attend the meeting in person.) Scott Martin announced that the organizers of the Policy History Conference (meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 3-June 6, 2010) are keenly interested in papers and panels on alcohol and drug policy history. Other meetings mentioned included a conference on drug policy and history in El Paso, Texas, in September 2009 (Chuck Ambler can provide details), the annual ADHS sessions at the AHA meeting in San Diego, January 7-10, 2010, and a conference on Intoxicants and Intoxication in Cultural and Historical Perspective will be held in Christ's College, Cambridge, July 20-July 22, 2010. In short, opportunities galore.

The facilities at the University of Strathclyde were excellent. The reception at the Glasgow City Chambers, the conference dinner at the Arta Restaurant, and the tour of the Glengoyne Distillery were wet, sociable, and memorable. None of this would have been possible without the splendid organizing work of Patricia Barton and James Mills and support from the ADHS, the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, the Wellcome Trust, and the Bowling Green State University Graduate Program in Public Policy. I know that I speak for all the attendees in extending thanks to these individuals and organizations.

Respectfully submitted,

David T. Courtwright
ADHS President and
Presidential Professor
Dept. of History
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL 32224-2645

Posted by David Fahey on July 16, 2009 at 03:31 PM in Society News | Permalink