Students do drugs in Special Collections

Early Modern History students working in Special Collections

Economic and Social History students working in Special Collections

Booze, fags and opiates – all the drugs were on the table for two groups of level 3 and 4 Economic and Social History students visiting Special Collections last week! But before you call the police and the newspapers, be assured that no illicit substances were present. In fact, the purpose of the visit was for students of Dr Rosemary Elliot’s new Addiction in the Modern World class to view and handle a range of historical primary sources held in Special Collections which shed light on western society’s conflicted and difficult relationship with tobacco, alcohol and opium.

A universal medicine?! Frontispiece of Sp Coll Ferguson Af-g.62

A universal medicine?! Frontispiece of Sp Coll Ferguson Af-g.62

The students, working in small groups (and often viewing and handling real historical sources for the first time), were encouraged to carefully leaf through each source and critically evaluate its contents. They were asked to consider what the purpose of each document might be, what arguments were being made by the author, what assumptions and value judgements were being made and how the arguments of the document relate to established “fact” at time of writing and in the present day. They were also encouraged to reflect on the source as a material object – what the style of printing, quality of the materials used and language of the document might suggest about the creator and intended audience.

Sources from the 17th century right up to the 20th century were available, covering topics as diverse as the claimed “wonderfull [health] vertues of tobacco”, the rights and obligations of the British government during the Opium Wars, the most appropriately gentlemanly practice for 19th century snuff-taking, the temperance movement in 19th century Glasgow [printed ephemera, now available as a Flickr set] and exactly which pipe an early 20th century gent should buy to go with his ivory-tusk lighter.

The dangers of smoking (Sp Coll BG57-c.21)

The dangers of smoking (Sp Coll BG57-c.21)

The class was a big hit with both students and lecturer, as Rose Elliot describes:

‘It was really exciting to be able to bring students to work with primary sources integral to the course, some of which are drawn on in the secondary literature they are reading. I was impressed by the discussion and comments which the sources generated in class, and the students enjoyed working with the material. It was a great introduction to Special Collections and I hope that students will go back and visit again.’

Are you currently teaching an undergraduate or postgraduate class at the University of Glasgow? Like to find out what primary sources we hold that may support your teaching? Or organise a similar visit for your students? Well, please email us and we can meet with you and discuss! Special Collections and the University of Glasgow Archive Services offer a range of primary source sessions that can inspire your students, support your teaching and help your students develop their investigative and critical thinking skills.

Special Collections:
Archive Services:

Categories: Library, Special Collections

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Two years ago a reader at The National Archives found a packet of what proved to be heroin attached to a Foreign Office document (originally from the consulate in Cairo) – see

    • Hah! Brilliant! That’s definitely one to place on the restricted access list! Well I’m glad to say that I’m not aware of any class A narcotics in our stacks; nor mummified vermin for that matter…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: