Geiger Counter at Ground Zero: Explorations of Nuclear America - HI857

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 30 (15) DR J Wills







This module critically examines the surface and decay of Nuclear America in the twentieth century. Responsible for ushering in the modern atomic era, the USA is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in nuclear technology and weaponry. Receptivity towards the atom has nonetheless shifted over time: atomic materials once heralded the saviour of American society (through the promise of reactors delivering ‘electricity to cheap to meter’) have also been deemed responsible for long-term environmental problems and doomsday anxieties. Why the atom has received typically bi-polar and polemic responses is of great interest here. Along with events of global significance (such as the bombing of Hiroshima), the module also covers the more intimate views of American citizens living and working close to ground zero. Personal testimonies come from ‘atomic foot soldiers’ traversing blast sites in the 1950s and protesters trespassing across reactor sites in the 1970s. In particular, the module examines the role of media, propaganda and image in inventing popular understandings of the nuclear age, as well as the contribution of atomic scientists to national discourse.
Themes and Topics:

Popular and Scientific Ideas of Radioactivity
The Manhattan Project and the Decision to drop the Bomb
Cold War (1): The Rosenbergs
Atomic Veterans and explorations of Ground Zero
Civil Defence and Fallout Culture
Atomic Movies (1) Fantasy
Cold War (2): The Cuban Missile Crisis
Protesting the Peaceful Atom: Diablo Canyon and Three Mile Island
Atomic Movies (2) Realism and Survivalism
Cold War Memory, Legacy and Atomic Tourism


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Convenor: Dr John Wills – Contact hours: 2 hours per week

Indicative reading

Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (1994)
Paul Boyer, Fallout (1998)
Philip Cantelon, Richard Hewlett & Robert Williams (eds.), The American Atom: A Documentary History (1991)
Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear (1986)
John Wills, Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon (2006)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

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