HIS32350 Alcohol, Drugs & Society

Academic Year 2024/2025

This module explores the social history of alcohol and drugs in Ireland, Britain and North America from the late eighteenth century to present day. From US prohibition to smoking bans; opium dens to heroin addiction; and the gin craze to ecstasy raves, a long, historical perspective is essential for understanding debates about alcohol and drug use today.

The module is broadly chronological, beginning in the 18th Century with the "gin craze" and the evolution of a ‘disease model’ of addiction from the 1770s, and changing approaches to stemming the tide of substance misuse. These include the rise of the temperance movement, prohibition in the 1920s United States and the origins of ‘rehab’. Attention will be paid to how restrictive legislation, recreational norms/subcultures and drug classification have been shaped by discrete sets of social, cultural and political ideas in historical contexts. The course will also examine how attitudes towards drugs and alcohol lend insight into wider cultures and societies at specific historical moments. Throughout, the importance of class, gender and ethnicity will be assessed. The rise of the medical profession and the growing influence of medical knowledge will also form a central theme. The course will engage with a blend of secondary readings and primary source material, including audio-visual clips, testimony from patients in mental hospitals and pamphlets.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should have:
1. developed writing and communication skills;
2. developed knowledge and critical understanding of the history of alcohol and drugs in Ireland, Britain and North America;
3. enhanced their skills in essay writing, presenting their work to peers and participation in seminars;
4. developed an awareness of key concepts and methodologies that historians have used to approach the history of drugs and alcohol;
5. enhanced their ability to evaluate a range of primary sources relevant to the module.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module will consist of weekly in-person lectures and seminars.

Together, these compulsory components will provide overviews of weekly topics, focusing on key historical trends, debates and events, alongside small-group active and task-based learning using both secondary and primary sources related to the weekly topics.

Advanced research, writing and citation skills are developed through a combined individual student presentation on primary sources and written essay, and a semester-long 3,500-4,000 word research project. Autonomous learning is advanced through student-led debate and discussion of set primary sources and / or student presentations each week. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade

Not yet recorded.

Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Online automated feedback

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the presentation / 1,500 essay will be given in writing. Oral feedback will be provided on an ongoing basis on preparatory plans for the 1,500 essay and the end-of-semester essay. Feedback on end-of-semester essays is given individually by appointment after submission and grading.