Done with Sugar, Now for Weed!

My first rule of living in Florida: If Governor Rick Scott thinks it’s a good idea, I better take a second look. The Miami Herald yesterday reported that a judge has cleared the way for medical marijuana in Florida. The state will begin issuing growers licenses in 3 weeks. Wait, what? Wasn’t there a medical marijuana ballot measure defeated in November? Indeed there was! The medical marijuana that will soon be available (the so-called low-euphoria Charlotte’s Web strain) was authorized in June 2014 through SB 1033, signed into law by Rick Scott. Nothing to do with any ballot initiative. The Herald article mentions a couple of provocative details: licensed cannabis producers—of which there will only be 5 in the state—have to be large-capacity nurseries that have been in business for at least 30 years and are well-enough capitalized to post a very large bond.

As a historian, I have been working for the last year on a new research project on the environmental history of the war on drugs. Now that my book about sugar is about to be released! What I have learned so far is that ideas about nature and agriculture have long been central to strategies for combating the narcotics trade. At least since the 1920s, prohibitionists have struggled to restrict the production of poppies, cannabis, and coca–all agricultural commodities. Even before the Reagan-era supply-side drug control strategies, farmers and their land were at the center of drug control efforts.

It turns out that agriculture is still very much at the heart of our debates about cannabis. Or, it would be more appropriate to say that horticulture is. Last November when we voted on medical marijuana in Florida, I had thought it had a pretty good chance of winning here. The vote was indeed close. The reason it failed? Hardcore lobbying and a well-funded opposition campaign. Notably, but not obviously, the plant nursery industry in Florida was a major opponent of the ballot measure. They even hired a “strategic communicator” with experience in “grassroots operations” to coordinate their campaign to defeat it.

Suddenly a few things make sense to me. Last fall in my “War on Drugs in Historical Perspective” class I had a student who was earning a second BA after a long career as a nurseryman in South Florida. He had a keen interest in medical marijuana laws and told me a few times about how avidly the issue was being followed in the nursery business. Honestly, I didn’t really think much about it at the time. I also didn’t think too much about the fat stack of “Vote No on Medical Marijuana” brochures I saw last November at the plant nursery where I buy vegetable starts. Well, I did think about it enough to wonder why, of all political issues, the plant nursery had medical marijuana brochures prominently displayed on their counter.

This morning I read the full text of SB 1033 and was surprised at how deeply and obviously it was crafted to represent the business interests of large, highly-capitalized greenhouse growers. Out of curiosity, I also looked at the laws that authorize medical marijuana in other states. There are currently 13 states that have approved medical marijuana by legislative act rather than through a voter-driven ballot initiative. The earliest of these was Hawaii in 2000, followed by a handful of other states. There has been a boom in such laws since 2012. Three each in 2013 and 2014. There are variations among the laws, but they have an awfully lot in common—suspiciously so. Is ALEC getting in on the medical marijuana business? When I compared states with voter-driven versus legislature-driven measures, here’s what I found. They differ in the scale of production, financial requirements for authorized producers, limitations on the total number of legitimate growers, and whether licensed users can grow their own plants. The last legislature-approved law that allowed production for personal use was New Mexico’s in 2007. Since 2010, every single legislature-approved law has followed a similar formula that seems designed to put a few large-scale, well-capitalized greenhouse operators at the top of a very tightly regulated supply chain. Florida’s law is the most explicit in its favoritism. And, as the Florida Black Farmers Association points out, the result is also profoundly discriminatory.

Greenhouse growers are ready to seize the opportunity created by years of prohibition. One of the things I find most fascinating about the war on drugs is the interdependencies between licit and illicit economies. Illicit producers transformed cannabis into an indoor crop in the 1980s in response to DEA surveillance, herbicidal eradication (yes, even in the United States), and supply-side enforcement that punished growers more aggressively than others in the supply chain. There are lots of reasons to worry that this is far short of the decriminalization that drug-policy reformers hope will undo the civil rights discrimination endemic to the war on drugs. Florida’s system will–by design–continue to criminalize small producers,  undermine efforts at further reform, and assure that profits are concentrated where they usually are. At the top.

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Considering a Comps Field with Me?

Nb: I’m no longer at an institution that grants graduate degrees. However, this is decent advice for Hampshire students looking for Div II and III committee members.

Here’s my approach to comps:

I am happy to work with Ph.D. students doing comps fields in modern U.S. history, U.S. foreign relations, U.S. empire, U.S.-Latin American Relations, U.S./Latin American/European comparative, comparative race and ethnicity, immigration, environment, food, cultural studies, and probably some other topics.

It is great if you have taken a class with me before doing a comps field, but it is not required. If you think you want to do a comps field with me, by all means let’s talk.

I do not provide you with a list. In fact, I believe that building the list is one of the most important pieces of the comps prep process.

I generally ask students to start by making a bibliography of books that you’ve already read in your proposed field and books you really want to read. Think about how to group the books into smaller subsections, each focused around a few key questions and themes. I will give you feedback on books I think you might consider adding or deleting. We will work on developing your subsections, themes, and questions as you prepare for the exam. The questions I ask you on the actual exam will almost always be related in some way to the questions you yourself have posed in the process of building the bibliography.

Look here for my advice about tools for building bibliographies of secondary sources.

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Tips on locating PRIMARY SOURCES

**This post is part of a series on conducting primary source driven historical research. I recommend starting with Historical Research Overview. You can also read posts on building secondary source bibliographies including Tips on Locating Secondary Sources and The Seed of a Good Bibliography and Why you should think twice before you read a book that’s more than 25 years old… and Why prioritize books published by a university press?

***This post focuses on digitized primary sources. Know that digital archives are partial reproductions of actual physical archives. To learn more about what those are all about, check out this useful guide from the Society of American Archivists:

Open Access Online Archives  Some online archives are created and maintained by educational institutions, libraries, and museums. They are free and open-access. I maintain a very partial list of these archives on my personal Zotero site.

My favorite Hampshire College Library Subscription Databases for Historical Research

Newspapers & Magazines:

US Government documents:

  • The easiest place to look for Congressional hearings and reports is Hathitrust, which is not a subscription database
  • Lexis-Nexis[contains legal cases for federal and state courts
  • The other Five College libraries have additional databases you can use onsite

Other published primary sources

  • JSTOR (for primary sources use the advanced search and limit the dates to the years you are researching; remember that JSTOR is an archive of scholarly journals, so most of what you find will be in that genre)
  • Worldcat (cross search the library catalogs of most university libraries in the country; request books by ILL; look here for published primary sources by limiting the dates to the years you are researching)

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Tips on locating SECONDARY SOURCES

**This post is part of a series on identifying secondary sources, including Why prioritize books published by a university press? and The Seed of a Good Bibliography and Why you should think twice before you read a book that’s more than 25 years old… Be sure to read those posts, too. I also recommend reading the Historical Research Overview post.

Building a strong bibliography is the first step in ANY research project. For historical research projects, you will want to use specific strategies to look for secondary sources.

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources A primary source is anything that was created during the time you are studying. A secondary source is anything created later (usually much later) that interprets and synthesizes primary sources. Hint: look at the publication date!

One reference manual I have used contains this helpful statement: “Students in pursuit of bibliographies resemble dogs chasing sports cars.” I know you want to know where they’re going with that…so follow the link and check out what they have to say.

Before you get started, I highly recommend that you get familiar with Zotero or another bibliographic software program.

  • Zotero is a free add-on for the Mozilla Firefox web browser. It makes it very easy to save, organize, and generate citations for research materials. It was developed by and for historians at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Here is a quick start guide. I recommend figuring this out right away, so that as you search for books you can easily save them and generate a bibliography and footnotes.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Chicago Humanities Quick Citation Guide — Note that there are two separate formats, one for footnotes and one for bibliography.

Tools for Finding Secondary Sources. Treat this as a checklist, and use ALL of these strategies because they will produce different kinds of results.

  • Be sure to check out this blog post about how to use one book/article that you know about as a “seed” to grow a bigger bibliography.
  • Google Scholar — Google Scholar indexes many BUT NOT ALL scholarly journals and books. Like JSTOR or Project Muse, you should use it knowing that it has limitations. However, it has one very nice feature. It tells you how many other scholars in its database have cited a particular book or article, and then lets you look at all of those citations. This is a great way to get a sense for how a field has developed over time because you can track the influence of particular works. You can also quickly identify works on similar topics.
  • — While this is hardly a scholarly method, looking at amazon is the first thing I do when researching a new topic. I find it especially helpful to look at the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” section. For example, if you were to search for Mary Dudziak’s Cold War Civil Rights, the “Customers Who Bought This…” section will immediately give you the handful of other important books on the same topic (including Race Against Empire, Eyes off the Prize, and The Cold War and the Color Line). Be sure to scroll through the list. I recommend opening interesting looking books in a new tab [right click, “open link in new tab”] so that you don’t lose track of where you were scrolling. Be sure to scroll through the “Customers Who Bought This…” section for each of the new books you identify. By the time you have looked through the “Customers Who Bought This…” for each of these books, you should have compiled a substantial bibliography on your topic. Note that if you have downloaded zotero, there will be a zotero link in the toolbar for amazon books so you can save these citations. Don’t buy them. Save them. Look them up in the Hampshire College library catalog. If Hampshire doesn’t own them, one of the Five Colleges likely does and you can request it for delivery. Also, DO NOT USE AMAZON TO LOCATE PRIMARY SOURCES.
  • America: History and Life should be your starting place for finding secondary source articles. Be sure to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles only because America: History and Life includes non-peer-reviewed sources. This is an index, not a full-text database. You will thus only be searching the title, author, subject terms, and abstract (if there is one). You will also have to look outside of the database to find the actual articles.
  • JSTOR is also useful, but not exhaustive. It is a full-text database so you can search not only the citation information, but also the content of the articles. It has a several year embargo, so the most recent scholarship will not be there. Remember to set the dates so that you are finding secondary sources (since JSTOR can also be used to find primary sources).
  • Project Muse is another resource. Like JSTOR, it is not exhaustive. But if you are fishing for topics or electronic resources, it can be useful.


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Do you Eat Sugar?

Since I write about the history of sweets (and I have a M.S. in nutrition), people sometimes ask me whether or not I eat sugar. I do. People also ask me whether I think sugar is really bad for us. I do. Go figure.

In the period that I research (1900s-1930s) most people thought that sugar was a healthful source of calories. While there had always been naysayers, they were mostly considered quacks. In the 1930s a few dentists and a new generation of quacks renewed the panic about sugar, which had dwindled since the 19th century. Weston Price, for example, was a dentist who traveled the world examining people’s teeth and bone structure. He concluded that sugar and wheat were destroying civilization, an insight that I write about in my book (which is tentatively titled Sweetness and Civilization).

Price has recently gained a number of new adherents, and has achieved a cult-like status, which I find a bit odd given what I know about him. Popularized by cookbook author Sally Fallon, Price’s followers advocate eating a diet of grass-fed meats and dairy and eliminating all processed food including soy, sugar, and most wheat. They suggest fermenting fruits and vegetables. The Weston Price Foundation publishes a lot of information about this philosophy. The front page of the website shows an attractive family with the caption, “They’re happy because they eat butter.” Fair enough.

In terms of contemporary discussions of the place that sugar ought to have in our diets, the Weston Price folks represent one variant of the extreme anti-sugar position. Another vocal proponent of this view is Gary Taubes. He has written several books and a number of articles for the popular press. Here are two recent articles by him from reputable publications.

Gary Taubes, “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” Mother Jones, November/December 2012,
Gary Taubes, “Is Sugar Toxic?,” The New York Times Magazine, April 13, 2011,

In the second article he discusses research by Robert Lustig, another prominent anti-sugar advocate. Lustig is a pediatric neuroendocrinologist who researches diabetes in children. Here is a radio interview and excerpt from his book, Fat Chance, in which he argues that one’s weight does not matter as much as what one eats. Sugar in all forms, he argues, messes with the body’s ability to regulate itself.

Both Taubes and Lustig argue that it doesn’t matter what kind of sugar–sucrose is just as bad as high fructose corn syrup. There is another camp that singles out HFCS as especially pernicious. One early proponent of this view was food journalist Michael Pollan. He points out that HFCS has become ubiquitous in our food supply since the 1970s, thanks to federal subsidies.

“When a Crop Becomes King,” The New York Times, July 19, 2002,


Pollan is not a nutritionist, but his ideas seem to have stimulated nutrition researchers to look more closely at whether HFCS functions differently in the body than other types of sweeteners. The corn industry has also responded by sponsoring a lot of research to disprove this hypothesis. Whether or not HFCS is metabolized differently, researchers have shown that it does stimulate appetite differently.  And geographer Julie Guthman is very critical of Pollan’s elitist view of the American diet. See, for example,

Julie Guthman, “The Food Police: Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos,” Utne Reader, February 2008,


On the other hand, many nutrition researchers, including NYU’s Marion Nestle, argue that energy balance is the most important factor in maintaining a healthy weight (and controlling related health problems). An expert in the politics of food, she says that calories in and calories out matter more than where those calories come from. Thus, sugar is fine in moderation. Butter is fine in moderation. Etc., The problem comes when people super-size their portions while leading sedentary lifestyles. Here  is a list of Nestle’s many publications.

Julie Guthman criticizes much of this research, and questions the extent to which there even is an obesity “epidemic.” She summarizes recent research pointing not towards food as the cause for metabolic changes among Americans, but instead to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Here is a New York Times Opinion piece where she presents this view.

Julie Guthman, “Enough With the Calorie Counting! – Room for Debate,” The New York Times, July 25, 2011,


Not sure what to eat after reading all of this? Me neither!

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A Humble Experiment in Data Mining


Search results for “sugar tariff” from historical newspapers, by date. The tallest bar is 1920-1929.

A few years back the Proquest database folks implemented a nice feature in their search results. In the right-hand column there’s a bar graph showing the number of hits by date for your search term. It’s a search facet, so you can zoom in on a particular decade and it shows you a breakdown by year. I’ve found this feature to be instructive, especially in teaching, because it’s an easy, visual way to chart the significance of some phenomenon (say, like “sugar tariffs”). Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how hard it would be to create such a bar graph for an online archive that did not automatically generate one. My in-house digital humanities consultant sat down with me yesterday to experiment with this. We used Cornell University’s HEARTH, a fabulous online archive of home economics, nutrition, dentistry, and random other topics dating from the 1850s through the 1950s. From an initial search for “sugar,” we got 149847 matches in 4146 records. After a few hours of playing around, this is what we came up with:


Hits Per Year for “Sugar” in the HEARTH Database (click to enlarge). Note that it has the same general shape as the newspaper results for “sugar tariff,” both peaking in the 1910s and 1920s.

I find it quite fascinating (and not at all surprising) to see the peak in hits between 1913 and the mid-1920s, at about the same time and pace as simultaneous debates about sugar tariffs. People in those years cared a lot more about tariffs than people do now. People didn’t glaze over at the mere mention of the t word. The HEARTH archive features nutrition, etiquette, and health books and magazines, sources which do not in themselves discuss the tariff or sugar politics writ large. But these findings offer a kind of confirmation to my hunch that  people talked a lot more about eating sugar at the same time that they had heated debates about the sugar tariff in the 1910s and 1920s.

So how did we make this graph? It may be that some DH wunderkind has some different tools up their sleeves to accomplish this, but here’s our homemade technique.

1. We tinkered with the url from the search results so that all of the records for the “sugar” search showed up on one page. The very end of the unwieldy url goes like this: start=1;size=25 We changed it so that it read start=1;size=5000 It coughed up the results relatively quickly.

2. We copy pasted the results into notepad ++ and went through a number of steps to clean up the data. With its nice a find/replace function, notepad ++ is a great tool for systematically converting/cleaning up text. We essentially removed all text, leaving only the numbers. We did this slowly, one step at a time, until all that was left were pairs of numbers, tab-separated like this:

1902    26
1902    26
1919    12
1921    1
1917    100
1904    1
1919    105

etc., The first number is the year, the second number is the number of hits. Each pair represents one book or magazine that had hits for “sugar.” Thus, as you can see, there were multiple lines for each year. We condensed these in the next step.

3. We copy pasted this list into a google docs spreadsheet. I can’t remember exactly what I did to make it do this, but I did some magical step that merged together all of the hits where the year matched. (update: the magical step may have been converting it to a pivot chart). I tried to make a nice bar graph in google docs, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it label the axes properly. So I ended up cutting and pasting the data into Excel to make the chart. The hardest part was saving the chart out.

Not fancy, and somewhat labor intensive. But mildly entertaining for a Saturday afternoon!

If you have other ideas about how to do this, please feel free to drop us a line.

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