Drug-related activity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1900 and 1922: what evidence can be found through systematic searches of the Times digital achive.

This source preferred by Holly Crossen-White

Authors: Crossen-White, H.L.

http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/20685/

Publication Date: 2012

Much has been written about drug-taking during the nineteenth century, particularly in relation to opium. However, the early twentieth century has received considerably less attention, despite being a crucial period in the history of drug-taking within Britain. During 1916, the Defence of the Realm Act Regulation 40b made it an offence to supply or to possess particular drugs without authorisation. This was a fundamental shift in government thinking that presaged the modern era in which the legal status of particular drugs continues to be an issue of public debate.

Previous research focused on changes in the law and analysed the relationships between key individuals and influential groups with an interest in drug control. In part, this reflects the significance of the decision to alter the law but also the lack of available evidence concerning drug-takers of the era. This study seeks to address this gap in understanding and develops a new perspective on drug-taking, that of the participants.

The study developed an innovative and, at times, speculative approach to tracing drug-takers of that era. This led to the use of articles from The Times identified from systematic searches of The Times Digital Archive. These articles by their nature were mediated accounts of drug-related activity but no other source could offer such a range of drug-takers over the selected time period (1900-1922). Furthermore, the large number of articles identified meant that it was easier to detect press influences and take these into account when analysing their content. The wealth of information that emerged from the articles was beyond initial expectations and led to an additional piece of analysis concerning the geographical spread of drug-taking activity within the period.

Although the evidence did not allow the development of many in-depth accounts as had been the intention at the outset, it did provide insight to particular aspects of drug-taking activity. For example, the collated information regarding female participants suggested specific behavioural traits that possibly made female consumers harder to detect compared to their male counterparts.

Drug-taking among military personnel and the operation of supply networks were other aspects illuminated by the articles. An association emerged between military conflicts and increased drug-taking by military personnel. It indicated, too, that periods of conflict could have implications for domestic prevalence from the cessation of hostilities. Geographical analysis illuminated the supply networks both in terms of drug procurement and relationships between drug-takers within their areas of settlement. Furthermore, some of the areas associated with drug-taking during the early twentieth century remain linked to drugs in the present day raising questions about how and why specific areas might become drug hot-spots.

Further research arising from this thesis would involve the replication of the method during the later period, 1923 to 1950. This period would allow the female narrative of drug-related activity begun by this thesis to be developed further and to establish whether the First World War was a unique period for female participation or whether their participation evolved. Similarly, considering the articles from this later period could help illuminate further the subsequent spread and operation of supply networks. Replicating the method would also test whether it is transferable to other periods or whether changes to reporting style made the method era specific.

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