Addiction in

American History



JUNE 10- 29, 2018

Image: Federal Narcotic Farm Dedication Ceremony, 1935. Lexington, Kentucky. LaFayette Studios Collection. University of Kentucky Special Collections.

Institute Location: University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

Dates: June 10-29, 2018 (three weeks); applications due by March 1, 2018

Stipend to defray travel and lodging costs: $2,700

Project Director: Claire D. Clark

Project Coordinator: Cody J. Foster

Visiting Faculty: Caroline Acker; Isaac Campos; David Courtwright; David Herzberg; Lisa McGirr; Joseph Spillane; Nancy Tomes; Trysh Travis

Local Faculty, Affiliates, and Field Trips: Sarah Dorpinghaus and the University of Kentucky Special Collections; Kentucky Historical Society; Carl Leukefeld and Sharon Walsh of the University of Kentucky Department of Behavioral Science; Nancy Campbell, JP Olsen and Luke Walden (directors and authors of The Narcotic Farm film and book); Prohibition Tour, Over the Rhine Community Brewery Community District Redevelopment Corporation; National Historic Landmark Tour, Buffalo Trace Distillery; Federal Prison (former site of Lexington Narcotic Farm) Tour


Drug-related deaths in the United States have climbed in recent years. Prescription drug deaths first outnumbered traffic fatalities nearly five years ago; since then, overdoses from heroin have also surged as individuals who became dependent on physicians’ prescriptions turned to illicit markets for their supply. The current situation unfortunately has historical precedent. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, growing public recognition about the harmful consequences of medically prescribed opiates inspired new prohibitions and drove drug users underground. The unexpected return of opiate dependence to the American mainstream has affected contemporary families, schools, and communities, prompting a national reexamination of drug policy and education.

Today, drug education is ubiquitous in the pre-college curriculum. Health education materials confront the contemporary issues young adults face through didactic lessons, case studies, and role playing. Science courses present pharmacological facts informed by the latest federally-funded research. This National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer institute for school teachers will both empower educators to teach about addiction through the alternative lens of humanistic inquiry and provide relevant context for existing lessons in United States history and literature.

The institute draws on the subject area expertise of program faculty and the unique historical assets of Lexington, Kentucky- home to the nation’s central federal addiction treatment facility from the 1930s until the 1970s- to equip educators to address this timely yet enduring topic using the established humanistic techniques of historical analysis and close reading.

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Note: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, or in the Addiction in American History Institute, do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.