Cocaine and Colonialism? The origins of Asian markets for modern pharmaceuticals, c. 1900-1945

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 11:30

WISER invites you to a lunchtime seminar by James Mills

WISER Seminar Room, 6th Floor, Richard Ward Building, Wits Main Campus.

Abstract Between 1890 and 1945 Asia formed one of the world's largest markets for cocaine as it became a medicine and intoxicant for users as far apart as Bombay and Shanghai. Responses by governments there show they quickly viewed this as a crisis. As early as 1900 administrators in Bengal attempted to limit sales to those for strictly medical purposes, and by 1912 officials from a number of Asian governments had forced cocaine into the emerging international drugs regulatory system at the Hague Opium Conference. In subsequent decades administrators grappled with Asian consumers of the drug, and with those that defied governments to produce and distribute it.  This paper will examine this Asian cocaine crisis. It argues that the story forces historians to rethink the ways that the history of modern drugs and medicines in non-Western contexts has been written, as the agency of consumers and the agendas of pharmaceutical companies seem to be key features of the processes behind the emergence of these markets.

James Mills is Professor of Modern History at the CSHHH Glasgow, University of Strathclyde (  His publications include Cannabis Britannica: a social and political history of cannabis and British government, 1800-1928 (Oxford University Press Oxford 2005), and the edited volume (with Patricia Barton) Drugs and Empires: Essays in modern imperialism and intoxication, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007). He is currently PI on the Wellcome Tust funded grant The Asian Cocaine Crisis: Pharmaceuticals, consumers & control in South and East Asia, c.1900-1945;



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