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Traffic: German Chemists, Austrian Smugglers, and the Cocaine Epidemic in India (1900-1914)

  • 4/10/2014 | 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
  • Location: Visual Arts Center, Beam Classroom
  • Event Type: Lecture

Traffic:  German Chemists, Austrian Smugglers, and the Cocaine Epidemic in India (1900-1914)The lecture will be followed by a Q&A, featuring Alison Frank Johnson, Laura Henry, Associate Professor of Government, and Birgit Tautz, Associate Professor of German.

Today, Germany is considered Europe's mighty economic and political power; however, its perceived hegemony conceals not only the complex political situation today but also a past full of complicated political, economic, and cultural entanglements that were indeed global, as Alison Frank Johnson's talk shows.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, one of modern medicine's newest miracle cures was beginning to lose its luster. Cocaine, manufactured according to a patented process by Merck pharmaceuticals in Darmstadt, Germany, could quell pain and facilitate delicate surgeries like no other drug, but it was addictive and increasingly linked to criminality by temperance advocates. Simultaneously in the United States and India (two parts of the world where cocaine addiction caused the greatest concern), some physicians and social workers led a campaign to curtail its use. To get cocaine from Europe to India while circumventing increasing regulation, smugglers relied on lax oversight on one of Europe's largest steamship companies, the Austrian Lloyd. In this talk, Johnson links cocaine manufacturing in Germany and consumption habits in India together through new transportation networks of steamships and railways. The story of cocaine smuggling on Austrian ships reveals the challenges free trade imperialism posed to intermediate Great Powers like Austria-Hungary as they tried to participate in global commerce without being able to write its rules.

Alison Frank Johnson is Professor of History & Associate Director, Center for History and Economics at Harvard University. Her teaching and research focus on transnational approaches to the history of central and eastern Europe. Johnson teaches courses on the global history of commodities and European environmental history as well as courses on the Habsburg Empire and its successor states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her first book, Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (2005), was awarded the Barbara Jelavich 2006 book prize, the Austrian Cultural Forum 2006 Book Prize, and the Polish Studies Association 2006 Orbis Book Prize. Her second book (now in progress), Invisible Empire: A New Global History of Austria, argues that the Habsburg Monarchy was an imperial power, if not a colonizing power. Austria-Hungary's engagement with maritime commerce created welcome opportunities to solidify Austria-Hungary's position as a great power - but also unforeseen challenges, as Austria became entangled in trafficking, smuggling, and the slave trade.

A "Germany In Europe" Campus Weeks event, sponsored by the German Embassy and the Bowdoin College German Department with additional funding from the History Department.