Closer Readings Commentary

Addiction in American History

By Cody J. Foster*

Is the United States experiencing a resurgence of addiction or has it always been a part of the nation’s darker past? In what ways has addiction affected families and communities across the country? What can we learn from the history of addiction treatment and how might these lessons better inform our present-day policies?

The University of Kentucky is proud to host a Summer Institute for School Teachers titled “Addiction in American History” to take place June 10–29 in the bluegrass city of Lexington, Kentucky. This National Endowment for the Humanities-supported institute will answer the above questions while equipping educators with a more holistic understanding of addiction. Our goal is to empower educators to teach about addiction through the alternative lens of humanistic inquiry and provide relevant context for existing lessons on addiction in United States history and literature.

Successful applicants will receive a $2,700 stipend to defray travel and lodging costs in order to spend three weeks interacting with the nation’s foremost experts on the history of addiction, including Caroline Acker, Isaac Campos, David Courtwright, David Herzberg, Lisa McGirr, Joseph Spillane, Nancy Tomes, Trysh Travis, among others.

Through close readings and group discussions, attendees will hone their knowledge of the historical vocabularies that continue to influence the way society interacts with addiction today.

Finally, educators will come face-to-face with the past through field trips to Over the Rhine Brewery District, Buffalo Trace Distillery, and Kentucky’s Federal Prison on the former site of the Lexington Narcotic Farm in order to better understand how both drugs and alcohol have impacted society over time.

Applications are due March 1, 2018, and all applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline.

We welcome you to learn more about the “Addiction in American History” institute by visiting our website or by contacting Dr. Claire D. Clark via email at or by phone (859) 257-3513.


*Cody Foster is the Project Coordinator for “Addiction in American History”