Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Lecturer: Jamie Banks

This week’s lecture explores the changing role of “drugs” in nineteenth century medicine and society. It begins in the early 1800s, exploring the wide variety of medicinal preparations - containing substances such as opium, cannabis, and cocaine - once freely available to the public. It also explores the constellation of factors which lead to their eventual prohibition, including concerns about misuse, the professionalisation of medicine, evolving notions of addiction, and the consequences of Empire. In doing so, it not only explores changing attitudes towards intoxicants, but also how social and cultural factors influenced the evolution of medical knowledge and practice.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

  • Why was there such a diverse market for medicinal preparations of intoxicants?
  • Why was access to these preparations increasingly prohibited?
  • How did British experiences compare to those of France OR America?

Required Readings:

Virginia Berridge, 'Victorian Opium Eating: Responses to Opiate Use in Nineteenth Century England,' Victorian Studies, 21.4 (1978), pp. 437 - 461.

Timothy A., Hickman ‘Dangerous Drugs from Habit to Addiction,’ in Paul Gootenberg (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History (Oxford: OUP, 2022), pp. 213- 230.

Further Readings:


Virginia Berridge, Opium and the people: opiate use and policy in nineteenth and early twentieth century England (London: Free Association, 1999).

Virginia Berridge, Demons: Our Changing Attitudes to Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs (Oxford, OUP, 2013), esp. 55 - 77.

Jan-Willem Gerritsen, The Control of Fuddle and Flash: A Sociological History of the Regulation of Alcohol and Opiates (Leiden: Brill, 2000).

Louise Foxcroft, The making of addiction: the 'use and abuse' of opium in nineteenth-century Britain (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

James H. Mills, Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition 1800-1928 (Oxford: OUP, 2003).

Barry Milligan, ‘Morphine-Addicted Doctors, The English Opium-Eater, and Embattled Medical Authority,’ Victorian Literature and Culture, 33.2 (2005), pp. 541 – 552.

Terry M. Passinen, Secret passions, secret remedies: narcotic drugs in British society, 1820-1930 (Manchester: MUP, 1983).

Douglas Small, ‘Masters of Healing: Cocaine and the Ideal of the Victorian Medical Man,’ Journal of Victorian Culture, 21.1 (2016), pp. 3 – 20.



Caroline Jean Acker & Sarah W. Tracy, Altering American consciousness: the history of alcohol and drug use in the United States, 1800-2000 (Amherst: UMass., 2004).

David Courtwright, Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America (Harvard University Press, 2001).

David Courtwright, ‘The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920,’ The Journal of Southern History, 49.1 (1983), pp. 57-72.

Timothy A. Hickman, The secret leprosy of modern days: narcotic addiction and cultural crisis in the United States, 1870-1920 (Amherst: UMass., 2007).

Jonathan Jones, 'Opium Slavery: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction,' Journal of the Civil War, 10.2 (2020), pp. 185 - 212.

Joseph Spillane, Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States, 1884-1920 (John Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Joseph Spillane, ‘Making a Modern Drug: the manufacture, sale, and control of cocaine in the United States, 1880 – 1920,’ in Paul Gootenberg (ed.), Cocaine: Global Histories (Routledge, 1999).



Sara E. Black, ‘Doctors on Drugs: Medical Professionals and the Proliferation of Morphine Addiction in Nineteenth century France,’ Social History of Medicine, 30.1 (2017), pp. 114 – 136.

Sara E. Black, ‘French Drug Control from Poisons to Degeneration,’ in Paul Gootenberg (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History (Oxford: OUP, 2022), pp. 284 - 300.

P. E. Caquet, ‘France, Germany, and the Origins of Drug Prohibition,’ International history review, 43.2 (2021), pp. 207 – 225.

Howard Padwa Social Poison: The Culture and Politics of Opiate Control in Britain and France, 1821 - 1926 (John Hopkin’s University Press: 2012).

Susannah Wilson, ‘A Medicine for the Soul: Morphine and Prohibition in the French Cultural Imagination, 1870–1940,’ in Susannah Wilson (eds), Prohibitions and Psychoactive Substances in History, Culture and Theory: Prohibitions and Psychoactive Substances (New York: Routledge, 2019).