The Cosmology of Evidence:
Suffering, Science, and Biological Witness after Three Mile Island, Journal of the History of Biology, forthcoming
The 1979 partial nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island was simultaneously hyper-visible and hidden from public view. It was the subject of non-stop media attention, but its causes and consequences required expert explanation. No fire or explosion marked the moment when insensible radionuclides escaped the facility, yet residents recalled a variety of troubling sights, sounds, tastes, and sensations. Public distrust percolated in the interstices between government assertions that little radiation had escaped the facility and residents’ sense memories of the incident. This article traces intertwined networks of activists from Japan and Pennsylvania as they mobilized legally, politically, and scientifically to develop evidence about the offsite effects of Three Mile Island. Exploring the distinct cosmology of evidence that activists marshaled, the article shows how they placed the messy, contingent, dynamic living world at the center of inquiries about the meltdown’s consequences. Activists developed new practices of biological witness that reconfigured the interplay between scientific, legal, and moral authority, while concurrently reformulating sufferers’ subjectivities and notions of scientific objectivity. In the process, they suggested that environmental justice entailed epistemic justice. Their cosmology of evidence served as an argument and a material proof that the beloved but suffering living world, and the sciences used to understand it, could and should frame the governance of industrial society’s invisible harms.
History, Ethics, & The Environmental Archive
Somatosphere (2017): http://somatosphere.net/2017/10/history-ethics-and-the-environmental-archive.html.
In Marshallese culture the environment itself is sacred. Yet American colonizers used ancestral environments in the Marshall Islands for devastating nuclear weapons testing and related environmental research. These data are the fruits of exploitative, extractive, and destructive scientific enterprise. What ethical obligations attach to historians’ use of such data? What are the ethics of the environmental archive?
Offshoring American Environmental Law:
Land, Culture, and Marshall Islanders’ Struggles for Self-Determination During the 1970s, Environmental History 22 (2017): 209-234.
This article explores the impact of environmental law in US-controlled Micronesia. Historians have suggested that US environmental legislation and legal activism during the 1960s and 1970s often overlooked issues of environmental racism and injustice. This article explores the importance of these emerging environmental laws for Marshall Islanders living under American rule and subjected to the harms of American nuclear weapons testing. In 1972, the displaced people of Enewetak Atoll—a former nuclear test site—sued the US hoping to stop a new program of conventional weapons testing on their badly contaminated ancestral atoll. The capacious concept of the environment used in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the statute’s ambiguous territorial reach offered islanders important new opportunities to articulate their environmental values and to further their struggles for self-determination over ancestral lands and waters. This article argues that environmental law transcended the artificial territorial boundaries between the United States and its Pacific dependencies, opening up an important new venue of negotiation and conflict over the scope and environmental footprint of the United States’ offshore power.
Screening Out Controversy:
Human Genetics, Emerging Techniques of Diagnosis, and the Origins of the Social Issues Committee of the American Society of Human Genetics, 1964-1973, Journal of the History of Biology 50 (2017): 425-456.
In the years following World War II, and increasingly during the 1960s and 1970s, professional scientific societies developed internal sub-committees to address the social implications of their scientific expertise. This article explores the early years of one such committee, the American Society for Human Genetics' "Social Issues Committee," founded in 1967. Although the committee's name might suggest it was founded to increase the ASHG's public and policy engagement, exploration of the committee's early years reveals a more complicated reality in which committee members sought to increase the discipline's expert authority while distancing the society from controversy over eugenics and abortion rights.
Storyscapes and Emplacement, Layer by Layer
Change Over Time 3 (2013): 162-173 (with David Barnes).
Buildings and sites associated with large administrative institutions present challenges for historical interpretation. Often lacking immediate visual legibility or commonly known histories, these unwieldy places are not only costly to maintain but also confusing to potential visitors. These difficulties are compounded in sites that have been used for a variety of purposes in different eras. We argue that the same features that complicate interpretation of such sites also offer exciting possibilities when they are addressed with attention to narrative and emplacement. Using Philadelphia’s Lazaretto quarantine station as an example, we contend that historical interpretation can showcase the contingent social meanings and experiences of place over time.