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Benjamin Patrick Breen
Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077)
Experimental Drugs, Cold War Science, and the Future That Never Arrived, 1945-1965

Writing leading to a book on scientific and social scientific experimentation with mind- or body-altering drugs during the postwar era (1945-1965).

During the period between 1945 and 1965, some of the world’s leading scientists grew convinced that a newly-developed constellation of experimental drugs could help reshape postwar society. These substances (synthetic hormones, psychedelics like LSD, and sedatives used in a novel form of therapy called narcosynthesis) occupied an entirely new technological category. Unlike, say, penicillin, these new treatments didn’t just cure diseases — they held out the promise of enlarging the very boundaries of the human. It was a utopian future that never arrived. In its place came the past that we now remember: transformative pills refigured either as prosaic “mother’s little helpers” or as stigmatized drugs; the ploughshares of an idealistic postwar moment beaten back into swords. The proposed book is a history of this largely forgotten era of experimental drug research: the ambitious visions that energized it, the reasons that it failed, and the lessons it holds for today.

Project fields:
Cultural History; History of Science; History, General

Awards for Faculty

Research Programs

$32,500 (approved)
$32,500 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2022 – 7/31/2022