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Clarkson Professor's Research Shows Vital Role Of Drugs In Economic Expansion From Colonial To Present Times

[Photographs of Dan Bradburd for newspaper use are available at and]

Today, people everywhere consume sugar, chocolate, coffee and tea; many smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol; and to a lesser extent, use drugs derived from opium poppies, coca leaves, and hemp plants.

But according to Clarkson University Anthropology Professor Daniel Bradburd, the near universal availability of these drugs is a relatively recent phenomenon, and its origins can be traced to European geographic and economic expansion.bradburd2

Bradburd is the co-editor of a new book, Drugs, Labor and Colonial Expansion, that looks at how after the 15th century, Europeans introduced and used drugs in colonial contexts for the exploitation and placation of indigenous labor — from the introduction of alcohol in the West African slave trade to the use of coca as a labor enhancer in the Andes.

“Europeans first used drugs to induce trade with natives in foreign lands and to aid colonial expansion and promote trade,” explained Bradburd. “Once they no longer had to seduce people to work and trade, drugs were used to keep laborers working harder and longer.”

“Looking at the amount of caffeine and other stimulants consumed by the labor force today, it is clear that drugs continue to play a vital role in global labor and trade practices,” added Bradburd whose research of drug use in history extends to the present day.

The book includes essays by Bradburd and his co-editor William Jankowiak, professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and other prominent anthropologists and historians that examine the encouragement of drug use by colonial powers and the extent to which local peoples’ previous experience with psychoactive substances shaped their use of drugs introduced by Europeans.

According to Bradburd, drugs possessed characteristics that made them a particularly effective means for propagating trade or increasing the intensity of labor. Drugs were used to draw people, quite literally, into relations of dependency with European trade partners. Over time the drugs were used to intensify the amount and duration of labor shifted from alcohol, opium, and marijuana — which were used to overcome the drudgery and discomfort of physical labor — to caffeine-based stimulants, which provided a more alert workforce for the modern, technology-based world.

And, as Bradburd points out, it does not require a great leap to see that a culture that relies on drugs to enhance performance in the workplace, is a culture that would give vast numbers of children Ritalin to control behavior at home and school.

“Our society has contradicting views on drugs,” Bradburd explains. “On the one hand we are waging a war on drugs and increasing penalties for illegal drug sales and use, and on the other hand our athletic heroes depend on performance-enhancing drugs, adults use them to relax, and we have few qualms prescribing them to very young children.”

Bradburd is also the author of Being There: The Necessity of Fieldwork. He received his doctoral degree in anthropology from the City University of New York Graduate School. He is currently at work on a new book that examines the uses of tobacco, caffeine and Ritalin in American society.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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