Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, emerging imperial and trading networks and flows of people, knowledge, and goods from across the world introduced European consumers to a wide variety of ‘new intoxicants’: cocoa, coffee, opium, sugar, tea, and tobacco. In what has been termed a ‘psychoactive revolution’, these mind- and body-altering substances transformed dietary and social habits, and became mainstays of modern global economies and nation states.

Coffee plant


Focusing on four European cities between c.1600 and c.1850 – Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and Stockholm – this three-year project (2019–22) explores the impact of new intoxicants on urban public spaces, the role of urban public spaces in assimilating them into European behaviours, and the often exploitative international systems through which they were produced, trafficked, and consumed. Via our events, our online exhibition, and our work with schools, museums, and NGOs, we hope to demonstrate that understanding these processes offers a vital historical perspective on urgent contemporary questions surrounding drug use and abuse, addiction, migration, inclusion and exclusion within public spaces, and the place of intoxicating substances within everyday life.

Opium plant


Worlds of Opiates Webinar

In Utrecht University The project rounded out 2021 with a ‘big bang’ in Amsterdam, when work on opium by our Utrecht research team was translated into a unique project in public space: Worlds of Opiates, a pop-up exhibition co-created with artist Corne van der SteltHet Uitvindersgilde, and Poppi, a start-up drugs museum and social enterprise. 

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Swings and Syringes: Intoxication and Public Space

Intoxicating substances are part of everyday life, especially during social interactions. At the same time, pressure on space in urban regions and cities is great; not only today, but also in the past. How do cities and urban populations past and present accommodate drug consumption and negotiate public space use? Whose voices are heard when it comes to policymaking about public space and substance use? Moreover, what happens when you bring historians, criminologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and practitioners from drug work together to discuss these questions?

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New Project Exhibition: Worlds of Opiates

From 3–31 December, our Utrecht research team will hold a free pop-up exhibition for the general public at Amsterdam Central Station, one of the city’s major thoroughfares. The interactive show, organised in conjunction with the Poppi Drug Museum and called Worlds of Opiates, invites visitors to explore the history of opium in Amsterdam and its associated public spaces in a global context. 

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