Peter Galison, “Wastelands and Wilderness: Nuclear Lands” | National Humanities Center
Rocky Flats

Public Events

Peter Galison, “Wastelands and Wilderness: Nuclear Lands”

February 8, 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm at the National Humanities Center

As they are usually understood, the designations “nuclear wasteland” and “pure wilderness” are opposites; when they converge into nature reserves on the sites of decommissioned nuclear weapons lands we often describe this circumstance as “paradoxical” or “ironic.” Taking stock of plans to manage lands (and build monuments to warn the very distant future), Peter Galison argues that the categories of wastelands and wilderness are far from opposites; that their relation is more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity or corruption. Indeed, the most radioactive site in the weapons complex is also, astonishingly, one of the most bio-diverse in the United States. Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity—for reasons of sanctification or despoilment—alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible ethical questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as not for us humans.

Peter Galison
Peter Galison

Peter Galison is John Pellegrino University Professor for the History of Science and director of the Museum of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University, where his work explores the complex interaction between the three principal subcultures of physics—experimentation, instrumentation, and theory. In 1997, Galison was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship; he won a 1998 Pfizer Award (for Image and Logic); and in 1999, he received the Max Planck and Humboldt Stiftung Prize. His books include How Experiments End (1987), Image and Logic (1997), Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps (2003), and Objectivity (with L. Daston, 2007). With collaborators, he has also organized a series of books about the cross-currents between science and other domains. This spring, as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at the Center, he is working on a new collaborative project with Fellow Caroline A. Jones, Contested Visibilities and the Anthropogenic Image.

Image: site of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant
Peter Galison photo by Andrew H. Smith