ENVI 354
Drugs, Empire, & Environment in Historical Perspective Fall 2021
Division II

Class Details

This course considers the political economy & environmental impacts of licit & illicit drugs. We begin with the premise that drugs are commodities that gained global significance in the context of liberalism & empire. Imperial nations–notably Britain–consolidated political & economic power in the 19th century by promoting the opium trade against the wishes of Chinese & Indian officials. Most illicit drugs originated as plants–cannabis, poppies, & coca. The production of these internationally traded agricultural commodities helped transform rural livelihoods & landscapes in the 19th century; attempts at suppressing drug crops in the 20th century have also had environmental impacts. After the turn of the 20th century, the United States led an international movement to end the opium trade. Since then, the War on Drugs has expanded as a means for the United States to exercise domestic & global power. Our focus is primarily illicit drugs, but historical shifts in the categories of licit/illicit are a key theme. Other themes include race & racism in drug policy, imperialism, agriculture, & debates over toxicity. The course is divided into four units, stretching from the 19th century through the present. First, we discuss British colonialism in India & China through the lens of the opium trade. Next, we study the emerging drug control regime, focusing on coca, cocaine, & Indigenous producers in the Andes in the 1940s & 1950s. The third unit looks at environmental justice activists who oppose pharmaceutical companies’ waste disposal in Puerto Rico. Finally, we evaluate the environmental impacts of the recent cannabis boom. We ask whether the legal architecture on which the industry is built can overcome the colonial & racist legacies of drug control. Readings include works by historians, novelists, anthropologists, & public policy experts.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 1166
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: 2-3 short papers on assigned topics, final research paper, class discussion and paricipation
Prerequisites: ENVI 101 or instructor permission
Enrollment Preferences: environmental studies majors and concentrators; juniors and seniors
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: ENVI Humanities, Arts + Social Science Electives

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