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Presented By: Science, Technology & Society

STS Speaker. "And the other face was terrible": Risking the Future and Colonizing the Past in the Nuclear Southwest

Alicia Puglionese, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Alicia Puglionese Dr. Alicia Puglionese
Dr. Alicia Puglionese
In the early twentieth century, tourists traveled to the US Southwest in search of a “vanishing way of life” that they associated with Indigenous traditions and rugged adventure on what many saw as the nation’s last frontier. The Indigenous textiles and pottery that became popular in US consumer culture were a symbolic resource, as were Indigenous ancestral sites and artifacts excavated in what archaeologist Berenika Byszewski terms “the colonization of antiquity as a national and scientific space.” The rush for art and artifacts anticipated another rush that would soon engulf the Southwest. When the first nuclear test shot was fired at White Sands, New Mexico, in 1945, the atomic age dawned with the desert as its ground zero.

There were two American Southwests, one a source of natural and cultural riches, the other an absorber of radiation, from slag to fallout. Yet the two Southwests were twined together in the everyday lives of residents. This talk looks at the careers of two nuclear scientists who exemplify this entanglement. The first, Francis Harlow, was a Los Alamos physicist who studied Pueblo pottery in his spare time, becoming a national authority on it. The second is Floy Agnes Naranjo Lee, also a researcher at Los Alamos. Lee devoted her career to studying the health effects of radiation. Lee’s family came from the nearby Pueblo of Santa Clara, and she was one of the few Native people working in technical jobs during the Manhattan Project. Configured around Aziz Rana's image of the "two faces of American freedom," these stories illuminate how the nation's survival was made contingent on the appropriation of Indigenous pasts and futures.

Alicia Puglionesi is a writer and historian. She earned a PhD in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2015 and has taught at Johns Hopkins and MICA. Her first book, Common Phantoms: An American History of Psychic Science, explores how the practices of seances, clairvoyance, and telepathy both questioned and reinscribed social boundaries. She lives in Baltimore.
Dr. Alicia Puglionese Dr. Alicia Puglionese
Dr. Alicia Puglionese

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