‘History of Drugs’ class is popular with students

John Milligan

The “History of Drugs in the Modern World” course has returned to Kent State for the first time since the spring 2010 semester. The course looks at the effects of legal and illegal drugs on different civilizations and cultures.

The history course is organized into case studies, examining different drugs through topics like alcohol in colonial North America, the rise of cocaine since 1850 and the global drug trade.

Matthew Crawford, the assistant professor teaching the class, said the course is part history and part philosophy, examining how drug use affects the way societies see themselves.

“One of the main themes of the course is how do we define drugs and how do we interact with them,” Crawford said. “Why can you go to Starbucks and buy a cup of caffeine but you have to be over 21 to buy alcohol?”

Crawford said he is not the only professor teaching a topic like this, but similar courses are uncommon, possibly because of the stigma associated with drugs. He said his interest in the subject came from his research on the history of quinine, a drug used to treat malaria.

Some students said that while they found the topics to be fascinating, they also enjoy the in-class discussions.

Corbin Rispoli, senior paralegal major, said the course content is interesting but he especially enjoys the way the course is taught.

“The reading material is pretty good, and it looks like it’s going to get better,” Rispoli said. “But I like the discussion format.”

Crawford said he likes to emphasize student-led discussions with this type of material.

“The nice thing about (class) discussion is the people who are taking the class are involved in shaping what the class is and what it becomes,” Crawford said. “This is a topic I think people have ideas about and feel strongly about, and you can have really good discussions about it.”

Robin Hinson, senior sociology major, said she found the course while looking to fill her schedule. She said it has been interesting so far and continually holds her attention.

“It’s really cool to see how drugs vary between different cultures,” Hinson said. “Anything special topics like this is definitely off the beaten path, but the readings so far have been awesome, and the concepts and thinking are definitely applicable to your life.”

Crawford said the material is the heart of the course and a fascinating area to study.

“The question of why we regulate some substances and not others is an important historical question,” Crawford said. “It tells us something about ourselves as a society and culture and how we’ve changed over time.”

Crawford said he alternates between teaching other history-related courses, so the class will not be offered again until next year.

Contact John Milligan at [email protected].