Professor James Mills


Personal statement

Research summary

Professor Mills teaches and researches in two subject areas, the social history of drugs and narcotics and the social history of health and medicine in the British empire. He has previously published on psychiatric institutions and encounters in colonial India, and on the history of cannabis in Britain and its empire. He is currently writing the history of cocaine consumption and control in Asia between 1900 and 1945.


Professional Memberships and Activities

He is Chair of the the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme Panel and a member of the Wellcome Trust's Expert Review Group.  He served as Reviews Editor of the Social History of Medicine journal between 2005 and 2008, and is currently a member of the Alcohol and Drugs in History Society's Executive Council and a member of the editorial committee of the Drugs and Alcohol: Contested Histories series published by Northern Illinois University Press.  He regularly contributes to historical debate in the media.  For example see:


Research student supervision

Professor Mills supervises research in all aspects of the social history of drugs and intoxicants, and the history of medicine and health in colonial contexts.  Current and recent students include:

Chris Cavin, 'Intoxication and the Indian Colonial Military: Drugs consumption and control in the Indian Army, 1857-1919’.  October 2014, funded by ESRC doctoral studentship, ESRC Scottish Graduate School of Social Science.

Andrew Glen, ‘Britain, Empire and Opium:  Reassessing official British attitudes towards Asian opium consumption in the late nineteenth century’.  October 2014, funded by AHRC doctoral studentship, AHRC Doctoral Programme Scotland.

Simon Walker, ‘Medicalizing the Military: The British soldier and modern medicine, 1853 – 1918. October 2014, funded by ESRC doctoral studentship, ESRC Scottish Graduate School of Social Science.October 2014.

Thora Hands, ‘Reframing Drink and the Victorians: The Consumption of Alcohol in Britain 1869-1914’.  October 2012, funded by Wellcome Trust doctoral studentship (WT099357MA).

Luke Gibbon, 'Governing Drugs in a Global Context: The League of Nations, 1919-1939’.  Doctorate awarded May 2014, funded by Wellcome Trust PhD studentship (WT085432/Z).

Chris Gill, ‘The Civil Veterinary Departments of British India 1876-1947: Science, medicine, power and nature in a colonial context’. Second supervisor was Ms Jan Usher, Head of Official Publications at the National Library of Scotland.  Doctorate awarded April 2013, funded by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA08/830).

Leanne Dunlop, ‘Healthy or Hungry 30s? Assessing lifecourses in inter-war Glasgow’. Doctorate awarded May 2012, funded by ESRC Quota Award (PTA-031-2006-00201).

Emma Reilly, ‘From Citizen to Soldier: The British military body in the Second World War’.  Doctorate awarded August 2010, funded by University of Strathclyde scholarship.


Key publications

Cannabis Nation: Control and consumption in Britain, c. 1928-2008, (Oxford University Press Oxford 2012).  For reviews see

Drugs and Empires: Essays in modern imperialism and intoxication, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007). Edited with Patricia Barton.

Cannabis Britannica: a social and political history of cannabis and British government, 1800-1928 (Oxford University Press Oxford 2005).

Confronting the Body: The politics of physicality in colonial and post-colonial India, (Anthem South Asian Studies Series London 2004). Edited with Satadru Sen.

Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: the 'native only' lunatic asylums of British India , 1857 to 1900, (Palgrave Basingstoke 2000).


Patients, carers and consumers : agency and the history of pharmaceuticals
Mills James H
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Vol 76 (2019)
Colonizing cannabis : medication, taxation, intoxication and oblivion, c. 1839-1955
Mills James H
Locating the Medical Explorations in South Asian History (2018) (2018)
Decolonising drugs in Asia : the case of cocaine in colonial India
Mills James
Third World Quarterly (2017)
The IHO as actor : the case of cannabis and the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961
Mills James H
Hygiea Internationalis Vol 13, pp. 95-115 (2016)
Cocaine and the British Empire : the drug and the diplomats at the Hague Opium Conference, 1911–12
Mills James
Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History Vol 42, pp. 400-419 (2014)
Cannabis Nation : Control and Consumption in Britain, 1928-2008
Mills James

More publications

Professional activities

Medicine, trade and power: New approaches to pharmaceuticals in global trade networks.
”la Caixa” Banking Foundation – Area of Research and Strategy (External organisation)
Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) Postgraduate conference, Shanghai University,
MRC (Medical Research Council) (External organisation)
The Carnegie Trust (External organisation)
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

More professional activities


Christopher Cavin - The Charles Henry Brent Papers and the Rise of International Drug Control Policy
Young, Craig (Principal Investigator) Mills, James (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2017
The Shanghai Initiative: Medical Humanities futures in the UK and Asia
Mills, James (Principal Investigator)
02-Jan-2017 - 30-Jan-2021
The Asian Cocaine Crisis: Pharmaceuticals consumers and control in South & East Asia, c 1900-1945
Mills, James (Principal Investigator) Baruah, Ved (Researcher)
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2020
The Asian Cocaine Crisis: Pharmaceuticals consumers and control in South & East Asia, c 1900-1945
Mills, James (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2022
International Health Organizations (IHOs): The history for the future network (International Highlight Notice)
Mills, James (Principal Investigator)
"International Health Organisations (IHOs) concern themselves with all aspects of health and healthcare in the twenty-first century. They take forms as varied as the World Health Organisation, the Red Cross/Crescent, Sans Front, the World Anti-Doping Agency and Christian Aid. Their remit is broad and wide-ranging, intervening in times of disaster, providing basic healthcare services where they do not already exist, setting standards and promoting practices, cajoling individual states into concerted action, and promoting particular views of health and healthcare. Yet this has not always been the case, and health agencies that transcend national boundaries and draw on transnational funding and expertise are a recent historical phenomenon.

While there is a number of studies of particular institutions and movements, the IHO has rarely been viewed as a distinct phenomenon in the history of health and healthcare in the modern period. This network seeks to address this by bringing together historians and those from related disciplines with relevant research interests. It aims to provide fresh insights into particular periods, organisations and case studies, but also to explore the potential of comparative perspectives, and of teasing IHOs out of the wider history of health and medicine in modernity.

Key questions include:

1. What agendas and ideologies shaped the emergence of IHOs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
2. Who has established and resourced IHOs, why, and has this changed over time?
3. How far have IHOs met their objectives and what shaped or prevented success?
4. What impacts have IHOs had in the locales where they have been embedded?
5. To what extent have locals worked with or against IHOs and what shaped their approaches?
6. In what ways has the emergence of the IHO had wider impacts on international relations, and on domestic relations within countries and cultures?
7. What does the emergence of the IHO over the last two centies tell historians about the history of medicine, and of modernity?
8. How can historical perspectives shape future strategies and trajectories for those working with or within contemporary IHOs?

The network will tackle these questions at a time of transition and new challenges for IHOs. The WHO launched a period of internal reform after its Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly and in 2015 is expected to announce its 12th General Programme of Work, which provides the framework for an organization-wide programme of interventions, budgeting and resource-allocation for the period 2016-2025. In part these changes have been in response to crises such as the ban in 2011 on IHO programmes in Somalia by al-Shabaab, the armed militant Islamic organisation, and the on going difficulties reported by organisations like The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF in delivering medical services to refugees and the civilian population in Syria. The network will therefore not simply bring together historians, but will also draw in those working in today's IHOs in order to create an interface between history and the contemporary context in order to test how far looking to the past can shape future strategy and policy."
30-Jan-2014 - 29-Jan-2016
AHRC - Doctoral Training Partnership Scotland | Glen, Andrew
Mills, James (Principal Investigator) Barton, Patricia (Co-investigator) Glen, Andrew (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2014 - 12-Jan-2018

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