fullscreen background
Skip to main content

Spring Quarter

Spring Registration Now Open
Most Classes Begin Apr 01
shopping cart icon0


« Back to Liberal Arts & Sciences

GEOG 14 — The History and Geography of Natural Mind-Altering Substances

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 2—Jun 4
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Apr 4
Units: 2
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $550
Instructor(s): Martin Lewis
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Apr 2—Jun 4
10 weeks
Refund Date
Apr 4
2 Units
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Martin Lewis
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Mind-altering plants, fungi, and their derivatives have been important—and controversial—aspects of human culture for thousands of years. Few societies have avoided all psychoactive substances, just as most have regarded some with contempt. One group’s sacred plant can be another’s abomination. Some scholars think alcohol production was a significant factor in the rise of urbanism and civilization, and others have recently found evidence of more potent substances in ancient ceramic vessels. Major social and economic developments have been connected to the spread of mind-altering substances. Coffee, for example, has been linked to the flourishing of Sufi mysticism in the Muslim world and the rise of capitalism in northwestern Europe.

This course takes a deep dive into the history and geography of more than a dozen natural psychoactive substances. It avoids synthetic drugs, although it will touch on those derived from natural substances, such as cocaine and morphine/heroin. Familiar means of altering one’s mental state, in both subtle and overwhelming ways, will be emphasized, with detailed explorations of alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, opium, coffee, and tea. But we will also consider more obscure and regionally restricted substances, such as fly agaric, kava, and qat. The focus will be on anthropological considerations and geohistorical analysis, avoiding moral and medical evaluations. Lectures will be richly illustrated.

Senior Lecturer in International History, Emeritus, Stanford

Martin Lewis is the author or co-author of five books, including The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography and Globalization and Diversity: Geography of a Changing World, and the world geography textbook Diversity Amid Globalization: World Regions, Environment, Development. He received a PhD in geography from UC Berkeley and is the former associate editor of the Geographical Review. Lewis taught at George Washington University and at Duke, where he was co-director of the Program in Comparative Area Studies, before coming to Stanford in 2002. He writes on current events and issues of global geography and for GeoCurrents.

Textbooks for this course:

(Recommended) Edward Slingerland , Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization (ISBN 978-0316453356)
(Recommended) Martin Booth , Cannabis: A History (ISBN 978-0312424947)
(Recommended) Jordon Goodman(ed.), Paul Lovejoy(ed.), & Andrew Sherratt(ed.), Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs, 2nd Edition (ISBN 978-0415425827)