Drugs and Empires in Asia -More syllabus blogging

So, as I got some help last time I asked for advice on what to teach next semester, here is what I have for HIST 403 Drugs and Empires in Asia. This is a senior-level topics class, meaning that everyone in it should be more or less a senior history major, and that they will each be producing a 15 or so page research paper on a topic related to the class. Here is the blurb..  picker

Tea, Opium, Sugar. All three of these were wildly profitable goods in Early Modern and Modern Asia. All of them also caused radical social change and sometimes violent political disputes. In this class we will be looking at these three substances and their role in Asian history from the heyday of the British East India Company through the 20th century with its anti-opium campaigns and industrial sugar production. Students will write a major research paper based on the bountiful (primary and secondary) sources on these topics.

Why this topic? Well, I was going to do something like “Theoretical disputes inside the Chinese Communist party: From the 29 Bolsheviks to the Three Whatevers.” Then I found out that the other topics class next semester would be on Pirates! The other professor even photo-shopped his face onto the body of Captain Morgan for the flier! Argh. Hopefully drugs will pull in at least some students.

I wanted to do something on drug foods, commerce and consumption in Early Modern and Modern Asia. While I will probably have some readings on tobacco, betel nut or whatever (and I will be fine with papers on those topics) I figured opium, tea, and sugar would work well because…

Tea is the broadest, so if you want to do a paper about anything from the East India Company trying to control India (good if a student wants to get away from economics a bit), to the 20th century tea trade to the timeless culture of tea in Japan there is a lot there. This is probably the area I am weakest in. Main book Sharma, Jayeeta. Empire s Garden: Assam and the Making of India (Radical Perspectives). Duke University Press Books, 2011., although I will also give them some stuff from Gardella, Robert Paul. Harvesting Mountains: Fujian and the China Tea Trade, 1757-1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994 and maybe something on tea culture in Japan. There is a lot of pop stuff on tea and the tea trade.

Opium is always interesting. It is also possibly the most political of these three, and if you want to write a paper on it there is a lot of English-language polemic on the trade. Probably the best one for more cultural history types who want to look at consumption. Main book Trocki, Carl A. Opium, Empire, and the Global Political Economy a Study of the Asian Opium Trade, 1750-1950. London; New York: Routledge, 1999

Sugar gets you into modern industrial production, If you as a student really do not want to deal with Asian-y Asia there is a lot going on in the American-controlled Philippines and a fair amount of English language sources. Lots on peasants too. Main book Hill, Emily M. Smokeless Sugar: The Death of a Provincial Bureaucrat and the Construction of China’s National Economy. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. although I will probably also give them some stuff from Mazumdar, Sucheta. Sugar and Society in China: Peasants, Technology, and the World Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1998. and from Science and Civilization in China

So any suggestions on readings about these three? Other related topics that would work well for a research paper? Primary sources are strongly encouraged, but not required. I will probably give them some bits of Courtwright, David T. Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. as an intro, but I still have a lot of thinking to do about all this.




  1. What about coffee? I TA’ed for a “World of Coffee Course” at UC Irvine that used “The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1500-1989” as one of the main texts.

  2. For Japanese tea culture, you might look at Morgan Pitelka or Barbara Mori.

    Another take on sugar would be to look at sugar in Hawaii, where Asian immigrant labor was critical in a multi-ethnic, imperially structured industry.

  3. Oh, and you’ll probably do this, but one of my favorite primary sources ever in all of teaching is the pair of memorials on the legalization and banning of opium in the sourcebook from Spence’s text. The look on students faces when they realize that these debates have been going on for two centuries….

  4. Maura, I went looking for that book — I’d love to see a syllabus for that course, actually — as a possible text for my own World History survey. I have been doing food history in that course for a while now, and am currently having them read Andrew Smith’s “Eating History”, but I’d like to find something that was less US-centric. Unfortunately, that book runs 40+ for a kindle edition, 50+ for paper….

  5. Maura,

    Thanks for the tip, I will probably end up using some of that. I used Hattox Coffee and Coffeehouses in the Middle East when I did this as more of a global class and liked it a lot.

    Yes, I like that debate too (It’s in my source reader) What would you recommend on sugar in Hawaii? I suppose in addition to whatever I end up assigning I will need a pretty big list of things to suggest for papers, Hawaii would be great for that.

  6. Jonathan,

    Also you don’t have to give them the whole coffee book. (It is kind of pricey) I sometimes just give them PDF’s of chapters I want them to read. If you want to give them food history some of the chapters in Courtwright, David T. Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. might work well. I have always wanted to do some sort of class where I could give them something from Collingham Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

  7. One possibility would be Gary Okihiro’s book on sugar worker strikes, Cane Fires, which is good on the ethnic tensions of the territory. Alan Moriyama’s Imingaisha is good, because it has a lot on the economics and politics of the immigration business. Hilary Conroy and Wayne Patterson both have books about Hawaii as a frontier for immigration, for Japan and Korea, respectively.

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