UMR historian publishes book about opium

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On March 15, 2007

Today’s war on drugs is not the first battle America has fought against addiction. In her new book, University of Missouri-Rolla historian Dr. Diana Ahmad examines the opium-smoking epidemic of the mid-19th century and finds that Chinese immigrants weren’t the problem, as is commonly believed.

The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West, by UMR historian Dr. Diana Ahmad

The book, “The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws,” was published this month by the University of Nevada Press.

Ahmad, who is associate professor of history and UMR’s archivist, contends that while China faced its own epidemic of opium addiction in the 19th century, only a very small minority of Chinese immigrants in America were actually involved in the opium business.

“It was in Anglo communities that the use of opium soon spread,” Ahmad says. “This growing use was deemed a threat to the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and to its growing importance as a world economic and military power.”

The book also examines how the spread of opium-smoking fueled racism and created demands for the removal of the Chinese from American life. Ahmad reveals the way moral crusaders linked their antiopium rhetoric to already active demands for Chinese exclusion.

“Until this time, anti-Chinese propaganda had been dominated by protests against the economic and political impact of Chinese workers and the alleged role of Chinese women as prostitutes,” Ahmad explains. “The use of the drug by Anglos added another reason for demonizing Chinese immigrants.”

A nationally recognized expert on the U.S. opium trade of the 19th century Ahmad has appeared on the PBS program History Detectives. She began her tenure at UMR in 2000 as assistant professor of history. She has also held faculty positions at the University of Dallas, the State University of New York-Potsdam, University of Missouri-Columbia and Stephens College.

Ahmad earned bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in history and American history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1974 and 1979, respectively. She earned a Ph.D. in History of the American West from UMC in 1997. She is a member of collegiate honor society Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.

Ahmad has won 16 teaching and advising awards while at UMR, including the Dean’s Teaching Scholar Award and the UMR Outstanding Teaching Award for each year she has been at the university.

More information about the book is available at the publisher’s website at

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On March 15, 2007. Posted in Research