Universiteit Leiden

nl en


Morphine, cocaine and the slippery history of pain relief/pleasure seeking in colonial Vietnam

Wednesday 10 April 2024
International Institute for Asian Studies
Rapenburg 59
2311GJ Leiden
Conference room

A guest lecture by Claire Edington, Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of California - San Diego, USA.

This lecture takes place in the IIAS conference room from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (not online).

Everyone is welcome to attend. Please register so that we may know how many people to expect.

The Lecture

Moving beyond the usual focus on opium, this paper argues that attention to morphine and cocaine provides a new and richer understanding of the shifting contours of drug consumption in colonial Vietnam. At the turn of the century, mass advertising for new “miracle” drugs that promised to relieve pain and produce cures emerged alongside a powerful state-sponsored opium monopoly. Together, these parallel markets cultivated the desire for chemically-induced experiences, even as experts began to warn of the dangerously addictive potential of morphine and cocaine and Vietnamese consumers themselves made determinations about the relative efficacy and ease of ingestion of various substances. Once hooked, access to both new and more familiar drugs hinged on a host of shifting legal restrictions and market mechanisms which prescribed where and under what circumstances bodies in pain could find relief. Drawing on both French and Vietnamese sources, I argue that attending to the slippery qualities of pain-relieving drugs across different registers -  legal and illegal, poison and medicine, pain and pleasure – provides unusual insight into the material traces of these debates on addicted bodies as well as the material conditions which shaped access to these drugs in the first place.

The Speaker

Claire Edington is an Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of California - San Diego where she specializes in the history of Vietnam, colonial and postcolonial studies of medicine and science, and the global history of public health. Her first book, Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam, was published with Cornell University Press in 2019. She received her PhD from the Departments of Sociomedical Sciences and History at Columbia University in 2013. 


This lecture is organised in cooperation with Leiden University's Institute of History, with financial support from the European Research Council.

Registration (required)

Everyone is welcome to attend. Please use the web form on this page to register so that we may know how many people to expect, as seating is limited.

This website uses cookies.  More information.