HIS 492/AS 492 Poisons, Drugs, and Panaceas

What is a poison? How do we understand the effects of poisons on our body? How do we make the best use of these potent matters that can benefit us and the society at large? These are some of the fundamental questions to the history of medicine, and driving ones for this course. Examining the history of poisons through twelve case studies, we will explore the complexity of poison materiality by contemplating the intimate relations between poisons, medicines, and foods. We will learn how the experiences of the body shaped the conceived values of poisons. We will examine the circulation of poison knowledge across social and geographical domains. Using specific poisons as the anchor of our analysis, we will explore the social fabric and cultural milieu in which particular ideas and practices of poisons emerged, flourished, or diminished. One key aspect of the course is to introduce a comparative perspective to the study of medical history. By studying above topics in both European/American and Asian contexts, we will identify surprising parallels, striking differences, and hidden connections between these traditions. Finally, we will ponder how knowledge of poisons in the past illuminates our notions and habits of ingesting and experiencing drugs today. This course is the same as AS 492.