Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs (From the Sixteenth to the Twenty First Century)

The details
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
29 May 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Drugs are an intricate part of modern history. Study on drugs opens an opportunity for us to approach modern history from a different, refreshing yet equally authentic angle. This module questions the received knowledge by looking at the cultural and social history of drugs from the sixteenth century to the twenty first century.

It covers opiates use in China and Britain as well as the global culture of smoking well before the advent of the 'Opium War' and 'War on Drugs' from the second half of the nineteenth century. It charges the multiplicity of drugs used in the twentieth century and highlights their diverse modes of consumption by a variety of social groups, from opium-smoking scholars to morphine-consuming housewives and heroin-injecting peddlers.

The module will also show how prohibition in the early twentieth century contributed to social exclusion, driving drug consumption downwards the social ladder as it criminalised, and how far government policies purporting to contain narcotics actually created a 'drug problem'.

Module aims

This module allows students to integrate drugs into the familiar terrain of historical studies and methods, and into pre-existing fields of society, culture, or power.

Module learning outcomes

On completing the module, students will have gained confidence in working with a diverse range of primary sources. Have assessed recent theoretic and methodological debates about researching the social and economic as well as cultural history of narcotics. Have gained understanding of the diverse modes of narcotic use in different cultures from early modern to modern times.

Module information

General Reading List:
Coomber, Russ (ed.), Drugs and Drug Use in Society: a critical reader, Darford: Greenwich University Press, 1994.
Gilman, Sander L & Xun Zhou, Smoke: a Global History of Smoking, London: Reaktion Books, 2004
Goodman, J., Lovejoy, P. E., Sherratt, A. (eds.) Consuming habit: drugs in history and anthropology, London: Routledge, 1995.
Goldberg, Ted, Demystifying Drugs: A Psychosocial Perspective, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999.

Learning and teaching methods

1 x 2 hour seminar per week


This module does not appear to have any essential texts. To see non-essential items, please refer to the module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework 5,000 Extended Essay 12/02/2020

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Xun Zhou
Graduate Administrator, Department of History, Telephone: 01206 872190



External examiner

Dr Paul Corthorn
Queen's University Belfast
Senior Lecturer in Modern British History
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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