5211 miles. In the distance that runs roughly from London to Karachi, Pakistan, I spent the summer of 2016 driving across the western half of the United States to visit six atomic sites. Each site was integral in the production of the US nuclear arsenal during World War II and the Cold War. While I was in search of local archives, each local atomic museum proved much more captivating. After long, solitary drives through wide open desert and mountains, I came to look forward to the stimulation of poking through their exhibits. At the beginning of the trip, I did not know what to expect from each museum, though I suspected that each would lean heavily on ideas of objectivity in their portrayals of local atomic histories. I did encounter exhibits that made unalloyed claims about objective scientific and historical truths. But, I found so much more at the museums. Three themes leap to the fore on the trip. The museums instill awe by displaying the sublime and grandiose aspects of the bomb. They invoke objectivity by using heroic scientists as exemplars for truth. Finally, they exude opportunity by pointing to possible atomic futures. I argue that the museums rely on affect and desire more than they rely on objectivity to tell the US’ atomic story.
By Jorrit Smit
On the Sunday before Christmas, I bike to the UCLA campus in Westwood for the last time. Out of breath and full of sweat after climbing the hill in a boringly radiant sun, I find professor Norton Wise waiting for me outside Bunche Hall. With a special key he activates the elevator, which takes us to the sixth floor and his office. The quarter has already ended, the campus is deserted, but the climate control still runs full power. Under these circumstances, Wise and I speak about sources, philosophy and himself in the history of science. Norton Wise was previously director of the history of science program at Princeton University, and returned to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2000 to become Distinguished Professor in History and soon Co-Director of the Institute for Society and Genetics (until 2011).
An Interview with Professor Margaret Jacob, by Jorrit Smit
On one of those sunny, warm, Californian fall afternoons, I meet professor Margaret Jacob in the Herbert Morris Seminar Room on the first floor of Royce Hall in the middle of the UCLA campus. The well-known early-modern scholar has just entertained a crowd of scholars, students and unidentified passers-by with a talk on Unitarianism in 18th and 19th century Britain. The high correlation between rich industrialists and Unitarianism, she observes, is not captured by Weber’s alleged association of capitalism with Protestantism. It is one of those things she has stumbled upon in a long and rich career in intellectual and cultural history of Early Modern Europe. On Unitarianism, she hopes to write a book one day, but for now the talk suffices.
By Robert-Jan Wille
In 2010 a new novel by China Miéville was published with the thrilling title Kraken. Miéville is a writer of “weird fiction” whose novels try to move fantasy from the age of Tolkien to the age of steam punk and beyond. The book is a clear example of this. The main character of Kraken is a twenty-first century curator of the British Museum of Natural History who succeeds in losing a very large specimen of the giant squid Architeuthis dux, a theft that turns out to be the result of a war between different occult sects. Among them is a gang of squid ‘cultists’ who look upon the ‘Kraken’ as their god and who consider a nineteenth century natural historian from Denmark, Johan Japetus Steenstrup as their main apostle.
Door Hans Schouwenburg
In het geval van gezellige schapengeschiedenis mogen academische historici en geïnteresseerde niet-academici de barrières tussen hun werelden best doorbreken. Onder het genot van een lekker kopje koffie kunnen beide groepen dan samen nadenken over de beantwoording van historische vragen. In andere gevallen heeft het onderscheid tussen professionals en leken echter wel zin, en is het zelfs belangrijk dat een kleine groep experts – onderzoekers die weten waar ze het over hebben – de verhalen over het verleden controleren en bewaken.
Door Jesper Oldenburger
Geschiedenis en geschiedschrijving zijn zeker niet enkel en alleen binnen de academische muren gehuisvest. Geschiedenis is populair en talloze niet-academici houden zich momenteel, zowel op individuele basis als binnen een historische vereniging, bezig met het verleden. Naar aanleiding van een recente trip naar het schapeneiland Texel bespreek ik de verhouding tussen academische en niet-academische geschiedschrijving. Is het überhaupt relevant om van twee gescheiden werelden te spreken?
By Hans Schouwenburg
Until its renovation in 2010, the former Arts and Humanities Library of Utrecht University (Letterenbibliotheek) housed a rather unusual treasure. It was not a rare book, incunabulum, or any other peculiar curiosity from the special collections. Nor was it proudly displayed in a cabinet or carefully stored on a bookshelf. In fact, although all too well known to many, this particular historical source frequently remained unnoticed to the library’s visitors. In order to admire it one needed to walk quite a long way to the study booths on the third floor.