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The Secret Leprosy of Modern Days Narcotic Addiction and Cultural Crisis in the United States, 1870-1920

by Timothy A. Hickman

The Secret Leprosy of Modern Days Narcotic Addiction and Cultural Crisis in the United States, 1870-1920 Synopsis

Although the topic of habitual narcotic use first surfaced in the United States during the 1820s, it was not until after the Civil War that it became a subject of widespread public attention. Beginning in the 1870s, an increasingly urgent discussion of what some described as a national epidemic of drug addiction could be found in both medical journals and the popular press. Today, nearly a century and a halflater, the term is so commonplace we speak of people being addicted to just about anything. Yet, as Timothy A. Hickman argues in this revealing interdisciplinary study, the meaning of addiction has always been as much cultural as scientific and never fixed. In The Secret Leprosy of Modern Days , Hickman resituates the idea of addiction within its original late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century context. Through close readings of a broad range of literary, medical, and legal texts, he shows how Americans of that era conceptualized the dangers of drug addiction in terms of other preoccupations and fears. Anxieties about the accelerating pace of technological change, the loss of personal autonomy, and the degeneration of society attributed to both foreign influences and a decline of manliness all fed into a widespread sense of cultural crisis - a crisis of which the spiraling drug problem was seen as both contributing cause and consequence. Not surprisingly, Hickman points out, deeply held assumptions of class, race, and gender also figured into the popular understanding of addiction. While white middle-class addicts were often depicted as helpless victims of the social and economic pressures of modern life, their less privileged and nonwhite counterparts were regarded as morally weak. Over time the distinction between addict as patient and addict as criminal came to be accepted by the emerging medical establishment and codified into law, eventually finding expression in the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, the first national anti-narcotic legislation in the history of the United States - and the basis for much thinking about addiction and drug policy ever since.

The Secret Leprosy of Modern Days Narcotic Addiction and Cultural Crisis in the United States, 1870-1920 Press Reviews

Hickman does a terrific job of positioning narcotic intoxication in relation to abolitionist thought, temperance, and nervousness. . . .These are themes that always exist in awkward relation with the drug literature, which tends toward narrower dualisms--vice versus disease, criminal versus medical, and so on. Hickman draws us beyond those dualisms and situates drugs in a much more complicated, but interesting, context. -- Joseph F. Spillane Hickman does a terrific job of positioning narcotic intoxication in relation to abolitionist thought, temperance, and nervousness. . . .These are themes that always exist in awkward relation with the drug literature, which tends toward narrower dualisms--vice versus disease, criminal versus medical, and so on. Hickman draws us beyond those dualisms and situates drugs in a much more complicated, but interesting, context. -- Joseph F. Spillane

Book Information

ISBN: 9781558495661
Publication date: 15th January 2007
Author: Timothy A. Hickman
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Format: Paperback / softback
Pagination: 200 pages
Categories: Cultural studies,

About Timothy A. Hickman

TIMOTHY A. HICKMAN is lecturer in history at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.

More About Timothy A. Hickman

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