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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

About

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

Blog

‘It Brought Much Slime Out of the Gutts and Made Me Cheerfull’: Defining Intoxicants in the Diary of Robert Hooke

The word ‘intoxicant’ has a central place in this project, as in wider scholarship. But what does the term really mean, and why do historians use it so regularly? Intoxicant is mainly used mainly to describe products which intoxicate – that ‘fuddle or make drunk’, or that artificially alter one’s physiological or neurological state.

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Getting to the Root of It: Saloop in Early Modern London

After a long night of ‘frolicking’, which included plenty of drinking, the friends George Price and Samuel Plumpton continued their evening with a hot dish purchased from a stall. In many ways these actions seem familiar, almost like grabbing a coffee at the end of a night out. Yet the thick, creamy concoction they stopped for, saloop, is probably unfamiliar. 

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Narcotic Letters: New Intoxicants in the Correspondence of Isabelle de Charrière

Private correspondence, in which there has been a recent surge of historiographical interest, is one of the richest sources we have for recovering and reconstructing the day-to-day consumption of new intoxicants by historical actors. The letters of the late eighteenth-century novelist and essay writer Isabelle de Charrière, better known in the Netherlands by her maiden name Belle van Zuylen, are a very nice example.  

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