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Decade-long Cuban partnership continues

Queen’s and the University of Havana celebrate the future of their partnership.

[The 2018 Cuba trip cohort pose together with a statue in Havana. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
The 2018 Cuba trip cohort pose together with a statue in Havana. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

Queen’s and the University of Havana have partnered  for the past 10 years to teach the Cuban Society and Culture course and host visiting scholars and artists. The study abroad course has seen over 300 Queen’s students study in Havana thus far, and will continue thanks to a new agreement signed in Havana during a celebration of the course and partnership in May.

[Students, staff, and faculty from both universities enjoy local food and musical (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students, staff, and faculty from both universities enjoy local food and music. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

For Susan Lord (Film and Media) and Karen Dubinsky (History/Global Development Studies), their ongoing professional relationship with their colleagues from the University of Havana has created opportunities that stretch farther than their annual course.

The course begins at Queen’s in the winter term. Students learn about the history of Cuba from 1959 to present day, studying social and cultural challenges, successes, and innovations. Students then travel to Havana for two weeks to experience what they learned over the semester. They visit historic monuments, take in the modern landscape of music, agriculture, and city living, participate in classes at the University of Havana, and enjoy the warm hospitality of their Cuban colleagues and fellow students.

“We have sessions throughout the trip for students to digest their experiences,” says Dr. Lord. “We talk about what they find on the street that contradicts or extends what they’ve learned in books. Some of the key takeaways for students from this past trip was the amount of music everywhere in Havana and the diversity of perspectives on Cuban reality presented by professors in the course. This is much more enriching than only learning in a textbook.”

[Students travel through an art exhibit featuring mosaic tile. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students travel through an art exhibit featuring mosaic tile. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

A decade of collaboration has led to lasting relationships between the coordinators from both countries. University of Havana professor Sonia Enjamio was a core contact for Drs. Lord and Dubinsky before she died in 2010. To commemorate her dedication to the course and students, the coordinators of the course, including Drs. Lord and Dubinsky and University of Havana Vice-Dean (International) Lourdes Perez, decided to create the Sonia Enjamio Fund to help Queen’s students continue their studies and University of Havana students study at Queen’s.

“Relationships are a key ingredient to success for these kinds of programs, and the Cuban Society and Culture course is a great example of best practices,” says Jenny Corlett, Director of International Initiatives with the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The coursework is the trunk of the tree, but there are so many relationships that spread like roots to make it stable and keep it growing.”

This connection between Queen’s and the University of Havana has led to dozens of research projects by both universities’ researchers. Ten scholars and artists from Cuba have participated in exchanges to Queen’s. Freddy Monasterio Barso (Cultural Studies) is a Cuban PhD candidate and one of the course instructors for Cuban Society and Culture.

Recent research collaborations between Cuba and Queen’s include:

  • An upcoming book of essays and interviews of Sara Gómez, an Afro-Cuban filmmaker of the sixties by Dr. Lord;
  • A book on Canada-Cuban person-to-person relations by Dr. Dubinsky;
  • A master’s thesis on staying current in an offline country by Xenia Reloba de la Cruz, a Cuban journalist who completed her master’s at Queen’s in Cultural Studies; and
  • A 2014 anthology of renowned Cuban musician Carlos Varela’s work in English and Spanish curated by Dr. Dubinsky, Ms. Reloba de la Cruz, and former Cuban visiting scholar to Queen’s Maria Caridad Cumana. Mr. Varela received an honorary degree from Queen’s in the same year.

“The relationship between Queen’s and the University of Havana precedes the course by several decades,” says Dr. Dubinsky. “It began in the early seventies as part of a large project organized by Canadian University Service Overseas, a Canadian non-governmental organization. Fifty Canadian engineering professors taught over 300 Cuban students. That first project was judged a rousing success, and efforts such as our course continue that connection.”

[Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International), and Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) participate in the awarding of certificates to students in the course. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International), and Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) participate in the awarding of certificates to students in the course. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

Dr. Lord’s vision for the next 5 years of the course is a healthy mixture of growth and sustainability.

“We work hard to keep the costs low. This is one of the least expensive exchange courses to Cuba, so we have to be innovative about how we grow sustainably,” says Dr. Lord. “We would like to increase the Sonia Enjamio Fund to have more reciprocal exchange, and explore more initiatives to support the course. I’d also like to do more work with graduate students to help facilitate their participation.”

The end of the tenth trip was marked with a celebration involving students, staff, and faculty from both universities. Guests enjoyed local cuisine, music (including a concert by Cuban hip hop artist Telmary Diaz, visiting artist at Queen’s in 2017), and the signing of an agreement by Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) and Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International) to continue the partnership for another 5 years.

[Students thank their guides and professors during the contract signing and 10 year celebration at the end of the visit. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students thank their guides and professors during the contract signing and 10 year celebration at the end of the visit. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

“Cuban Culture and Society is one of my favourite memories of my first year here at Queen’s,” says Chris Tianyu Yao (ArtSci’21), a Film and Media student. “From my perspective, the uniqueness of the course is the diverse and interdisciplinary content. It gave me an opportunity to engage in many new fields of study, such as politics, global development, and health studies. I could also easily find my own interests in this course. These experiences helped me to continue my study and research in film, art, and cultural studies.”

To find out more about the course, visit the Department of Global Development Studies website.

A super supervisor

Suning Wang is being celebrated with a national award for helping graduate students become successful scientists.

[Suning Wang with students]
Dr. Suning Wang (centre right) poses in her lab with three of her students. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

A national body has recognized a Queen’s professor for her outstanding mentorship of graduate students.

Suning Wang of the Department of Chemistry has received the inaugural Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship.

This award is intended to recognize graduate faculty members with a record of excellent mentorship of graduate students under their supervision. Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean (Graduate Studies) who is also Past President of CAGS, noted the importance of strong mentorship in the success of students during their studies and in their careers.

“The outstanding mentorship that Dr. Wang provides is reflected in the success of her graduate students, who go on to hold prestigious fellowships and faculty positions, and work in government and in industrial labs around the world,” says Brenda Brouwer. “Her students credit her with supporting life-changing personal growth, stemming from her genuine care for each student as a person. She sets high expectations and challenges her students to think critically about science, ask difficult and important questions, communicate scientific findings, and to grow as researchers, scientists, and individuals.”

CAGS has identified a few key behaviours that the best graduate mentors all demonstrate:

  • inspiring, guiding, and challenging supervisees to achieve excellence in scholarship;
  • providing a supportive environment that stimulates creativity, debate, engagement and dialogue and progression toward timely completion;
  • responding to the needs of their students and their career/future aspirations;
  • encouraging students to pursue opportunities to share and disseminate their research and scholarly activities within and beyond academia; and,
  • supporting supervisees in developing their academic and professional skills and transitioning beyond graduate studies.

“Dr. Wang’s record and the sincere gratitude and enthusiasm of your students for the mentorship she provides them was truly inspiring and stood out as exemplary,” says Susan Porter, CAGS President. “We are delighted to have Dr. Wang serve as the inaugural role model for this award.”

As the recipient of this award, Dr. Wang will receive a certificate of recognition from CAGS at their annual meeting.

“I consider this the most important recognition for my professional life because I spent most of the past 28 years – including 22 years at Queen’s – supervising the research of graduate students,” says Dr. Wang. “I feel very grateful and pleased that my efforts are appreciated by my former and current students. I am truly honored and humbled by this award.”

This award comes hot on the heels of an award for graduate student supervision which Queen’s announced for Dr. Wang back in the fall. She formally received that award during spring convocation 2018.

For more information on the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship, visit cags.ca.

Spring Convocation 2018 - Day 7

Hugh Segal receives an honorary degree as final week of Spring Convocation begins.

  • Hugh Segal laughs after a child responded during his speech
    Honorary degree recipent Hugh Segal lets out a laugh after a child in the crowd responded to his anecdote as he spoke at Monday morning's Spring Convocation ceremony.
  • A doctoral student from the Faculty of Arts and Science
    A PhD recipient from the Faculty of Arts and Science is hooded by Associate Dean (Studies) Jill Atkinson as Principal Daniel Woolf looks on.
  • Chancellor shakes hands with a graduate
    A graduate from the Faculty of Arts and Science points out her family as she is congratulated by Chancellor Jim Leech during the 16th ceremony of Spring Convocation.
  • Grant Hall during Spring Convocation ceremony 16
    Grant Hall is filled for the 16th ceremony of Spring Convocation on Monday, June 4.
  • Thanyehténhas (Nathan Brinklow), Opening dedication
    Thanyehténhas (Nathan Brinklow), of the Office of the Chaplain, provides the opening dedication in the Mohawk language and English during the morning ceremony on Monday, June 4.
  • Graduate students in the first row
    Masters and doctoral degree recipients fill the front row at Grant Hall during Monday morning's ceremony at Grant Hall, the 15th of Spring Convocation.
  • Principal Daniel Woolf offers greeting
    Principal Daniel Woolf welcomes the graduates, and their families and friends to Queen's University for the 15th ceremony of Spring Convocation.
  • Family members take a video of Hugh Segal
    Family members take a video of Hugh Segal as he receives his honorary degree during Monday morning's Spring Convocation ceremony at Grant Hall.

Spring Convocation entered its final week on Monday with a pair of ceremonies being held at Grant Hall.

In the morning celebration an honorary degree was conferred upon Hugh Segal, Principal of Massey College former Associate Cabinet Secretary (Federal-Provincial Affairs), Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

Convocation will continue with three ceremonies being held on Tuesday at 10 am 1 pm and 4 pm. The two final ceremonies will follow on Wednesday at 10 am and 2:30 pm, when award-winning architect Douglas Cardinal will receive an honorary degree.

Live ceremony feeds will begin approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled start of each ceremony.

full schedule of the ceremonies and more information about Spring Convocation, for graduates, parents and family, as well as faculty members, is available on the Office of the University Registrar website.

Further photos can be viewed at the Queen’s University page on flickr.

Spring Convocation 2018 - Day 6

  • Former Member of Parliament John Baird (Artsci'92)
    Former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister John Baird (Artsci'92) speaks to the graduates after receiving his honorary degree.
  • Honorary degree recipient Valerie Tarasuk
    Honorary degree recipient Valerie Tarasuka, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, speaks with Queen's faculty members outside Grant Hall. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Two graduates are hooded
    Two graduates are hooded from the Faculty of Arts and Science are hooded during the 14th ceremony of Spring Convocation 2018 at Grant Hall.
  • Tyler Lively and Daniel Woolf
    Principal Daniel Woolf shakes hands with Tyler Lively, the former president of the Alma Mater Society, after he was hooded at Spring Convocation.
  • Video of John Baird
    A woman takes a video of John Baird as he speaks after receiving an honorary degree from Queen's University on Friday, June 1.
  • Graduate receives blanket from kandice
    A graduate receives a blanket from Kandice Baptiste, Director of Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, during Friday afternoon's convocation ceremony.
  • Chancellor Jim Leech photo with graduate
    Chancellor Jim Leech poses for a photo with a new graduate and her family outside of Grant Hall following Friday morning convocation ceremony. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Principal Daniel Woolf congratulates Melanie Robinson
    Principal Daniel Woolf congratulates Melanie Robinson, a teacher at Granite Ridge Education Centre, as she receives a Baillie Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • A group of graduates are all smiles
    A group of graduates are all smiles as the wait to take the stage of Grant Hall and be hooded at Friday morning's convocation ceremony. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Queen’s University conferred a pair of honorary degrees on Friday as two ceremonies were held at Grant Hall.

During the afternoon ceremony, John Baird (Artsci’92), the former Member of Parliament, Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of the Treasury Board, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, was recognized.

Earlier in the day, Valerie Tarasuk, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, received her degree.

Convocation will continue on Monday, June 4 with two ceremonies at 10 am and 2:30 pm. An honorary degree will be conferred upon Hugh Segal, the current principal of Massey College, and former Associate Cabinet Secretary (Federal-Provincial Affairs) and Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

Live ceremony feeds will begin approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled start of each ceremony.

full schedule of the ceremonies and more information about Spring Convocation, for graduates, parents and family, as well as faculty members, is available on the Office of the University Registrar website.

Further photos can be viewed at the Queen’s University page on flickr.

Spring Convocation 2018 - Day 4

  • Former Rector Cam Yung and Chancellor Jim Leech
    Cam Yung, the 35th rector of Queen's, is congratulated by Chancellor Jim Leech as Vice-Principal (Advancement) Tom Harris looks on.
  • Vice Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies Brenda Brouwer
    Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies Brenda Brouwer speaks to graduates during the eighth ceremony of Spring Convocation.
  • Graduate flexes his arms
    A graduate of the Faculty of Arts and Science flexes his arms as he celebrates during Wednesday morning's ceremony at Grant Hall.
  • Vice-Principal (Advancement) Tom Harris
    Vice-Principal (Advancement) Tom Harris addresses those gathered at Grant Hall during Wednesday morning's convocation ceremony.
  • A graduate gets pin from QUAA
    A graduate prepares to receive a pin from a representative of the Queen's University Alumni Association after being hooded.
  • PhD graduate and chancellor
    A doctoral degree recipient waves to his family as he is congratulated by Chancellor Jim Leech on Wednesday morning.
  • Graduates are hooded
    A pair of graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Science are hooded during Wednesday afternoon's ceremony at Grant Hall.
  • Graduate hooded by her parents
    A graduate of the Faculty of Arts and Science is hooded by her parents during the ninth ceremony of Spring Convocation at Queen's.

On a beautiful sunny day, graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Science and the School of Graduate Studies took to the stage of Grant Hall on the fourth day of Spring Convocation at Queen’s University.

One of the graduates was Cam Yung, the 35th rector of Queen’s, who received his Bachelor of Science degree.

Spring convocation continues on Thursday with three ceremonies being held at Grant Hall at 10 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm.

An honorary degree will be conferred upon Indira Samarasekera at the 4 pm ceremony.

Live ceremony feeds will begin approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled start of each ceremony.

full schedule of the ceremonies and more information about Spring Convocation, for graduates, parents and family, as well as faculty members, is available on the Office of the University Registrar website.

Further photos can be viewed at the Queen’s University page on flickr.

Spring Convocation 2018 - Day 3

The two biggest ceremonies of Spring Convocation are hosted in the main gym of the Athletics and Recreation Centre.

  • Chancellor and graduate
    Chancellor Jim Leech helps a graduate find her family as they pose for a photo during the morning Spring Convocation on Tuesday, May 29.
  • Garduates saluting parents and friends
    Graduands in the life sciences and biochemistry programs salute those who have supported them throughout their studies during Tuesday's Spring Convocation ceremony.
  • Crowd for the sixth spring convocation ceremony
    Graduates sit across the aisle from their family and friends in the main gym of the Athletics and Recreation Centre.
  • Double hooding during sixth ceremony of Spring Convocation
    A pair of graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Science are hooded as they receive their Bachelor of Science degrees on Tuesday.
  • Graduate takes a selfie while waiting in line
    A graduate of the Bachelor of Commerce program takes a selfie as he waits to take to the stage during Tuesday afternoon's convocation ceremony.
  • Family and friends watch the seventh ceremony of Spring Convocation
    Family and friends watch the seventh ceremony of Spring Convocation, which featured the graduates of the Smith School of Business commerce program.
  • Double hooding during seventh ceremony of Spring Convocation
    A pair of commerce graduates are hooded at the same time during the seventh ceremony of Spring Convocation on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Graduates of the Smith School of Business commerce program fill the main gym
    Tuesday afternoon's Spring Convocation ceremony was held in the main gym of the Athletics and Recreation Centre so that the entire commerce Class of 2018 could graduate together.

The Class of 2018 returned to the stage on Tuesday with the sixth and seventh ceremonies of Spring Convocation being held at the main gym of the Athletics and Recreation Centre.

The change of venue allows the entire graduating class of the Smith School of Business commerce program to graduate together in the afternoon ceremony. The morning ceremony featured graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Science’s biochemistry and life sciences programs, along with degree recipients from the School of Graduate Studies.

Spring convocation continues on Wednesday with two ceremonies being held at Grant Hall at 10 am and 2:30 pm.

Live ceremony feeds will begin approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled start of each ceremony.

full schedule of the ceremonies and more information about Spring Convocation, for graduates, parents and family, as well as faculty members, is available on the Office of the University Registrar website.

Making dreams come true

The Principal’s Dream Courses support ongoing efforts to make Queen’s a more inclusive, diverse, and welcoming institution.

Each year, the Principal’s Dream Courses fund a number of course proposals tied to key themes, such as Indigenous knowledge, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion.

The selected courses will be taught for at least two iterations and each has access to up to $15,000 in one-time funding for teaching materials, field trips, and guest speakers. Faculty members will also receive course development assistance from the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

“The Principal’s Dream Courses support our ongoing efforts to make Queen’s a more inclusive, diverse, and welcoming institution, and a place that values, reflects, and shares Indigenous histories and perspectives,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf. “At the same time, the program asks faculty members to be creative and to consider what they’ve always wanted to teach. I am certain that each of these new and innovative courses will provide students with an exceptional and memorable learning experience.”

The winning courses are:
DEVS 221: Topics in Indigenous Human Ecology
T'hohahoken Michael Doxtater (Global and Development Studies, Languages, Literatures, and Culture), Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Studies: Land- and Language-Based Pedagogies and Practices

A redesign of the popular DEVS 221 course, Topics in Indigenous Human Ecology (TIHE) reevaluates conventional knowledge based on Indigenous knowledge, worldview, and culture. The course will introduce an Indigenous perspective on contemporary issues. Content and activities will provide detailed examinations of specific topics such as contemporary issues in Indigenous healing and wellness, art, teaching, and learning, socio-political life. Course activities include deep, collaborative inquiry-based learning, use of multimedia tools, and access to Indigenous subject matter expert coaches. Students will participate in four high-quality ‘TED Talk’ style presentations on topics related to course content and will summarize the talks using animation software.

PHIL 276: Critical Perspectives on Social Diversity
Lisa Guenther (Philosophy, Cultural Studies), Queen's National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies

The starting point of this course is Indigenous scholar Eve Tuck’s call to suspend “damage-centered research” that relies on pain and injury for its theory of change, and to cultivate a “desire-based research” that affirms the “complexity, contradiction, and the self-determination of lived lives.”  The course will develop a critical toolkit of concepts and methods for desire-based research on race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability, in conversation with primary texts and theoretical reflections on recent social movements such as Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, #MeToo, and movements for queer and trans liberation, disability rights, prison abolition, and radical ecology. Students will work in active-learning groups to create a collective project on a specific social movement, and will also be guided through an inquiry-based process to develop their own individual research paper. Scholar-activists Eve Tuck, José Medina, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor will be invited to campus to share their perspectives with students.

MUTH 329: Listening Otherwise
Dylan Robinson (Dan School of Drama and Music, Gender Studies, Global Development Studies, Cultural Studies, Languages, Literatures & Cultures, Art History) Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts

We listen every day, every moment, yet often do not consider the ways in which this form of perception is guided by factors including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ability (i.e. our individual positionality). MUTH 329 – Listening Otherwise considers the particular ways in which listening takes place in different settings (the concert hall, gallery, and urban and domestic spaces), and is influenced not only by cultural and gendered norms, but also by values of the institutions we are part of and the nation states we live within. The course is envisioned as a kind of “listening lab” in which we will experiment with different practices of listening. Students will have the opportunity to explore new ways of listening to music (recorded and live performance), of listening to place (as a ‘visitor/guest’ or when ‘at home’), and reconsider the political stakes of listening. The course will benefit from learning from a wide range of visiting artists, musicians, and scholars who will share their work with the class. We will listen to multiple genres of music, sound art and places themselves as we ask how the body listens “beyond the ear.”

The Principal’s Dream Course program is administered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning – learn more about it on the CTL’s website.

* * *

Queen’s University is committed to creating a campus environment that is more inclusive, diverse and welcoming. In the past year, Queen’s has received final reports from the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion (PICRDI) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Task Force. Recent developments in support of these efforts include expanding Deputy Provost Teri Shearer’s profile to cover the diversity and inclusion portfolio, establishing the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE), instituting the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and appointing Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill) as the first Director of Indigenous Initiatives, as well as having all areas of the university develop and implement their own plans for addressing the TRC and PICRDI recommendations.

* An earlier version of this article had the wrong course number for MUTH 329 – Listening Otherwise. Information about the course has also been updated.

The Conversation: The 19th century book that spawned the opioid crisis

Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was the first modern drug memoir and set the tone for opium use for decades.

[Poppies]
Papaver somniferum (Opium poppy), a group of deep red flowers, buds and seed pods. Opium is extracted from the latex of the unripe seed pods. Ripe seeds are innocuous and widely used in baking.

In 1804, a 19-year-old Oxford University undergraduate named Thomas De Quincey swallowed a prescribed dose of opium to relieve excruciating rheumatic pain. He was never the same.

“Oh! Heavens!” he wrote of the experience in the first modern drug memoir, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, published in 1821. “What an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! What an apocalypse of the world within me!”

That the drug took away his physical pain was “a trifle,” De Quincey asserted, compared to “the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me.”

[The Conversation]Over the next eight years, De Quincey used opium to heighten his enjoyment of books, music, solitude and urban wandering. In effect, he invented recreational drug taking.

Yet all the while opium was tightening its grip on him, and in 1813 he succumbed to an addiction that tormented him until his death in 1859, more than half a century after he had first tampered with the drug.

“Who is the man who can take his leave of the realms of opium?” demanded the great 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire in his Artificial Paradises (1860). Not De Quincey.

And, as today’s opioid crisis makes clear, not millions of others who have followed him into addiction, and who have had their lives ravaged by the drug. De Quincey’s Confessions transformed perceptions of opium and mapped several crucial areas of drug experience that still provoke intense debate today.

I have conducted research into the life and writings of Thomas De Quincey for 30 years, and my work on him includes a biography, The English Opium-Eater, and a critical edition of his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings. My understanding of his opium addiction has benefited greatly from my consultations with Prof. Mary Olmstead of the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s University.

The oldest drug

Opium is probably the oldest drug known to humankind. It is derived from the unripe seedpod of the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. The ancient Greek poet Homer almost certainly refers to it as “a drug to quiet all pain and strife” in his epic poem, The Odyssey, which was written in the eight or ninth century BC, and which De Quincey quotes in his Confessions.

For thousands of year, opium was the principal analgesic known to medicine. In the 16th century, the German-Swiss alchemist Paracelsus described it as “a secret remedy.”

At the end of the 18th century, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant warned of its dangers: Opium produces a “dreamy euphoria” that makes one “silent, reticent, and withdrawn,” he stated in his Metaphysics of Morals (1797), and it is “therefore permitted only” for medical reasons.In early 19th-century Britain, opium was everywhere. People of every age and class used it for self-medication like we use aspirin today. It was legal. It was cheap. It was available in a wide range of cure-alls, including Godfrey’s Cordial, the Kendal Black Drop and Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup.

It was used to treat all manner of major and minor illness, from cancer and diabetes to travelling sickness, hay fever, headache and depression. Pharmacists sold it, as did grocers, bakers, tailors, market vendors and country peddlers. There were no efforts to regulate its sale until the Pharmacy Act of 1868.

Over-prescribed

De Quincey consumed opium as “laudanum,” which is prepared by dissolving opium in alcohol. Morphine, the principal active agent in opium, was isolated in 1803 and delivered with a hypodermic syringe by the 1850s.

At the beginning of the 20th century, opium was better known in the form of one of its chief derivatives: Heroin. Today, opioids are sold in powerful prescription medications, including tramadol, methadone and oxycodone. They are also, of course, widely available in illegal forms such as heroin, or in illicit forms of legal drugs — like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Fuelled by decades of over-prescription, the United States gets 30 times more opioid medication than it needs, and opioid overdoses kill more than 140 people daily.

Meanwhile, in other countries, patients are forced to endure severe or chronic pain because there is a shortage of the drug. Mexico gets only 36 per cent of the opioid medication it needs; China 16 per cent; India just four per cent.

[Confessions of an Opium Eater]
De Quincey’s descriptions of opium shaped modern perceptions: A 1962 movie was made based on his book. 

De Quincey’s descriptions of his opium experience have thoroughly shaped modern perceptions of the drug, and in a variety of ways. He glamorized opium in his Confessions, linking it to spectacular dream sceneries, visionary forms of creativity and intellectual, moral and emotional bliss.

In 1824, the authors of the Family Oracle of Health damned the Confessions for producing misery in those who had read it and begun to abuse opium.

They were right to worry. Many 19th- and 20th-century addicts have said explicitly that De Quincey led them to the drug.

Typically, “ever since I read De Quincey in my early teens I’d planned to try opium,” Ann Marlowe confessed in 1999 in her How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z.

De Quincey was also the first to explore the painful cycles of intoxication, withdrawal and relapse and his accounts are deeply consonant with modern descriptions. Once he was habituated to opium, he no longer experienced anything like the euphoria he enjoyed as a recreational user.

When he determined to kick his habit, what he called “nervous misery” marked the beginning of withdrawal. If he attempted to battle through it, he was hit hard by vomiting, nausea, irritability and depression. He often fought these miseries, too, but then his resolution faltered, and he went back to opium. His intake levels gradually climbed. He spiralled toward rock bottom. The grim cycle began again.

Like the vast majority of addicts from his day to ours, De Quincey could come off opium. He just could not stay off opium.

Myth making

In one fundamental respect, however, De Quincey’s account of opioid addiction does not tally with today’s medical knowledge.

By common consent, the pain of opioid withdrawal usually lasts about a week and is like having a very bad flu. De Quincey tells a different story. “Think of me as of one, even when four months had passed, still agitated, writhing, throbbing, palpitating, shattered,” he wrote.

[Confessions of an Opium Eater]
Pages from Thomas De Quincey’s novel Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Such depictions exaggerated the agonies of withdrawal and established the erroneous conviction that it is a hellishly long process. In Romancing Opiates (2006), Theodore Dalrymple condemned the uncritical acceptance and enduring impact of De Quincey’s Confessions. “When it comes to drug addiction,” Dalrymple stated, “literature has trumped — and over-trumped — pharmacology, history, and common-sense.”

De Quincey had a deeply paradoxical relationship with opium, and more than 30 years after his addiction had taken hold, he was the first to detail the sickening confusion that so many addicts have found at the crux of their drug experience.

Opium, he asserted, was a con that could convince long-term addicts that they could lay it aside easily and within a week.

Opium was a trade-off that defeated steady exertion, but that gave irregular bursts of energy. Opium was irresistible, like a celestial lover. And opium was a blight that withered life. The collision of these competing impulses made it difficult for De Quincey to see his addiction clearly, and impossible for him to surmount it.

“Since leaving off opium,” he once noted wryly, “I take a great deal too much of it for my health.”

De Quincey initiated the story of modern addiction. There were countless users and abusers before him stretching back to the ancient world, but he was the first to publish a compelling narrative that explored the seductive pleasures and eviscerating pains of the drug.

The ConversationHe has been castigated for celebrating opium and for spreading misinformation about it. But in 1844 he was categorical about his drug abuse, and his harrowing words anticipate the testimonies of so many of the addicts caught up in today’s opioid crisis. “Not fear or terror,” De Quincey wrote, “but inexpressible misery, is the last portion of the opium-eater.”

The BBC’s,‘The Secret Life of Books,’ devoted to De Quincey’s Confessions, hosted by John Cooper Clarke. (The author Robert Morrison was involved in its production and is interviewed in the film.)

 

• • •

 

Robert Morrison is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature..

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Building LGBTQ+ allies

An event marking International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia will explore both the personal and conceptual aspects of gender.

[Markus Harwood-Jones]
Markus Harwood-Jones will speak at Thursday's event. (Supplied Photo)

A group of employees in cooperation with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2010, is organizing an event on campus to International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17.

“The USW Local 2010 Human Rights Committee has a mandate to raise awareness and education around Human Rights issues – which is why we chose to mark this day,” says Liza Cote, a Queen’s staff member and chair of the committee. “Having a guest speaker shed light on what it means to be transgender affords us an opportunity to increase awareness on campus.”

This free event will be held on Thursday, May 17 at noon in Mackintosh-Corry Room B201. The theme for this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia is “Alliances for Solidarity”, reflecting the need for persons from LGBTQ+ communities to find supportive communities so they can effect change and build safer environments.

It’s a theme that Markus Harwood-Jones, this year’s presenter, can relate to. Mr. Harwood-Jones is pursuing his masters in Gender Studies at Queen’s, and identifies as transgender. When he came out as transgender, he had to confront family rejection and he experienced housing insecurity. Mr. Harwood-Jones says his talk will delve into both the terms and concepts as well as the very personal experiences of being transgender.

“My hope is that those who attend will not necessarily leave with a single definition, but instead will have an interest in these terms and concepts,” he says. “I have a passion for this, and a sincere belief we can transform the world. That’s why I invite anyone who is attending to ask questions – don’t be afraid of not knowing enough or saying the wrong thing.”

Prior to joining the Queen’s community, Mr. Harwood-Jones was a student at Ryerson University where he helped found their Trans Collective, lobbying for gender-neutral bathrooms and hosting regular speaking and dinner events for the transgender community.

The United Steelworkers Local 2010 Human Rights Committee became aware of Mr. Harwood-Jones' story through Gender Studies staff member Terrie Easter Sheen, and approached him to speak. Ms. Easter Sheen says these causes are both political and personal to her – she identifies as queer; chairs the USW 2010 Pride Committee; is a Board Director of Reelout, Kingston’s queer film festival (which many Queen’s departments sponsor); and is active in the broader Kingston LGBTQ+ community.

For more information on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, visit dayagainsthomophobia.org

Opening the doors to astroparticle physics research

Visitor Centre for the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute unveiled in Stirling Hall.

 

The research being conducted by the newly-launched Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is providing answers to some of the biggest questions about how the universe works.

And while many people may be interested in the ground-breaking work, it isn’t always the easiest to grasp.

That’s where the institute’s Visitor Centre can help.

Launched on Thursday in concert with the McDonald Institute, named in honour of Queen’s University’s first Nobel Laureate, Professor Emeritus Art McDonald, the Visitor Centre is located in Stirling Hall, the campus home of the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy.

“Education and outreach are very important aspects for the McDonald Institute moving forward. Through the Visitor Centre we can better understand the complex scientific problems and research being conducted by the McDonald Institute in the field of astroparticle physics,” says Barbara Crow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science. “By making the ground-breaking research more accessible we can discover how scientists like Tony Noble, Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute, and his colleagues are working to shed light on a dark universe and discover answers to its many mysteries.”

The Visitor Centre, along with a new website, presents the ongoing research conducted by SNOLAB and the McDonald Institute, such as the discovery that neutrinos have mass and the search for dark matter, with the goal of engaging and connecting visitors to the questions and findings that are fundamental to the very properties of science and our understanding of the formation and evolution of the universe.

In addition to a series of panels highlighting research, facilities, and developments, the Visitor Centre features a virtual reality setup that will allow visitors to travel though space and experience a solar storm. The centre also offers an augmented reality sandbox that will teach guests about gravitational fields in an interactive and tactile manner.

On Thursday attendees of the opening ceremony, including a group of high school students, were the first to tour the Visitor Centre. It was also the first opportunity for the centre to see how visitors interact with the displays.

“The students really gravitated toward the interactive aspects and I think, to some degree, a lot of our interactive displays are also works in progress,” says Nathalie Ouellette, Communications, Education and Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute. “Moving forward we hope to get more feedback as guests interact with the displays and see exactly how they want to interact with them and what kind of experience they are looking for.”

The Visitor Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9:30 am-4:30 pm. Admission is free.

  • Information panels at McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    The Visitor Centre for the newly-launched Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is filled with information panels as well as a number of interactive displays. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Ribbon cutting for McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    Helping cut the ribbon to officially open the Visitor Centre were, from left: Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science; Nathalie Ouellette, Communications, Education and Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute; Tony Noble, Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute; and Benjamin Tam, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Virtual Reality set for McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    The Visitor Centre offers a virtual reality setup that allows users to travel though space and experience a solar storm. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Gravity box at McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    One of the interactive displays at the Visitor Centre is an augmented reality sandbox that can teach guests about gravitational fields in an interactive and tactile manner. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

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