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Atomic Legacies: A Roundtable Discussion

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The atomic bomb was born at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1945. Although the bomb inflicted its greatest violence on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, its impacts have since reached across the world, disproportionately affecting indigenous communities, colonial possessions, and fragile ecosystems. On August 1, at 12:00pm (EDT), you can join the Manuscript Division and an interdisciplinary panel of scientists and scholars to reflect on the global legacies of the atomic bomb.

Since the end of the Second World War, the bomb has been tested more than 2,000 times, in the atmosphere and below ground. It has brought destruction to sites ranging from the American Southwest to the Aleutian Islands, from Oceania’s atolls to the Australian Outback, from South Asia to North Korea, from the Chinese frontier and the steppes of Kazakhstan to the islands of the Arctic.

The assembly of those bombs demanded a supply of radioactive material, which was often mined by human hands. The testing was conducted in remote locations, often indigenous and colonized lands, and the manufacture demanded institutional support: funding, infrastructure, and the vast networks of scientists and researchers that only governments and universities could provide. The result has been a poisoning of communities and ecologies: from the Navajo laborers who mined and milled uranium on their reservation, to a legacy of radiation exposure in Japan that extends from Hiroshima to Fukushima, to the still-uninhabitable Marshallese atolls of Bikini and Enewetak.

Panelists will make brief presentations on current research and discuss the bomb’s afterlives in America, Oceania, and Japan. Panelists will include:

  • Holly M. Barker, Curator for Oceanic & Asian Culture, Burke Museum and Teaching Professor of Anthropology, University of Washington
  • Perry H. Charley, Professor Emeritus, Diné Environmental Institute Research & Outreach, Diné College, Navajo Nation
  • Kalena Kattil-deBrum, Research Scientist, University of Washington, and formerly Chief Research Scientist, Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority
  • Ryo Morimoto, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University
  • Ila Nako, undergraduate student in sociocultural anthropology, Princeton University

The Library’s Manuscript Division holds the papers of Los Alamos Laboratory director J. Robert Oppenheimer as well as several other figures involved in the creation and early testing of the atomic bomb, including Manhattan Project supervisor Vannevar Bush, physicist I. I. Rabi, chemist Glenn Seaborg, mathematicians John von Neumann and Klára Dán von Neumann, and Operation Crossroads director William H. P. Blandy.

Join us to learn more about the Library’s manuscript collections, the atomic bomb’s impacts on human communities and ecosystems, and its still deadly legacies today.

The event will take place online only on Tuesday, August 1, 2023, 12:00pm-1:30pm EDT. Register for the program here.

Please request ADA accommodations at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].

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