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Exhibition: Introduction

  • Black and white photograph of four people drinking alcohol at a bar.

    Saturday night, Craigville, Minnesota, 1937

    Courtesy Library of Congress

Mind-altering drugs have been used throughout the history of America. While some remain socially acceptable, others are outlawed because of their toxic, and intoxicating, characteristics. These classifications have shifted at different times in history, and will continue to change.

The transformation of a particular drug, from an acceptable indulgence to a bad habit, or vice versa, is closely tied to the intentions of those endorsing its use, and their status in society. This exhibition explores some of the factors that have shaped the changing definition of some of our most potent drugs, from medical miracle to social menace.

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