In my project I pose two main questions. First, how did morphine balance its medical identity among public associations to overdose, addiction and trafficking which emerged in the early twentieth century? Second, what are the advantages and challenges of using digitized newspapers when conducting a historical discourse analysis?
Morphine currently holds a firm position in pain management and is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines as an analgesic and sedative. Despite medical practice support of the drug's painkilling properties, the prescription and distribution of the narcotic is not without its obstacles. Morphine in the Netherlands balances a complicated number of identities by being on the one hand an important medical drug in pain treatment, but at the same time subject to concerns from both public and practitioners about its addictive and poisonous properties. The balance between morphine's painkilling status and non-medical associations that still features in Dutch public discourse today emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. At the onset of international drug control, Dutch public discourse constructed morphine alongside heroin and cocaine as an addictive, poisonous and trafficked substance. All three substances started out as medicines, but during this period an association to addiction and trafficking emerged for cocaine and heroin that to this day undermine their potential medical use. However, whereas heroin and cocaine in the first half of the twentieth century became and remained ‘demon drugs’, morphine to this day has balanced its addictive and poisonous properties with its importance as a painkiller.
Research into this early period will help explain how morphine balances its medical identities with its non-medical associations today. In my dissertation I therefore compare Dutch debates on overdose, addiction and trafficking of morphine, heroin and cocaine between 1880 - 1940 in Dutch digitized newspapers to examine how morphine balanced its medical status in the Netherlands during this formative period of the international narcotics debate.
This research is part of the project Digital Humanities Approaches to Reference Cultures: The Emergence of the United States in Public Discourse in the Netherlands, 1890-1990.
More information about this project can be found on www.translantis.nl