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Colby College
Opium Addiction and Forms of Empire

In the essayist Thomas De Quincey’s notorious Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), the protagonist describes opium’s psychoactive effects as “found[ing] its empire on spells of pleasure.” In this and myriad other nineteenth-century writings, the encounter between opium and “empire” serves as a significant rhetorical device that sparks questions about the connections among peoples, nations, and individual bodies. The seminar is built on a quite obvious premise: substance use was often politicized in the nineteenth century, in the sense that it could be associated with “abnormal,” marginalized groups marked by race, gender, class, health status, or other factors. Starting from this premise of modern individuals’ susceptibility to the power of normalization, the seminar shows that addiction was a conduit for imagining the structure of empire instead of merely being an actual consequence of imperialism. In particular, I will focus on one example: how Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) mimics and reflects on the method of imperial knowledge making, including the way Orientalism and racialization work.


Menglu Gao is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Colby College. She is the recipient of prizes and fellowships from, among others, the Buffett Institute, the Midwest Victorian Studies Association, and the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

Zoom Details

Zoom link: https://hku.zoom.us/j/93305162283?pwd=eDc1Ny9aaldIdDVISXVkZXVuaHZpdz09

Meeting ID: 933 0516 2283
Password: 735745

In view of the current pandemic situation, all face-to-face events or activities shall be suspended in accordance to the notice issued by Task Force. As a matter of fact, the upcoming seminar will be shifted from hybrid mode to online mode only.