Add to my Schedule Medina, Third Floor 01 Nov 2018 Organized Session
Environmental Sciences 15:00 - 17:00

In place-based science, location is key to scientific inquiry.  Thus, place-based science expands the focus from the rituals of laboratory practices within a laboratory to the actual placement of research in a landscape, on parcels of land often controlled by governmental or corporate entities.  Although there is a deep understanding of the administration of the traditional laboratory space, analysis focused on the administration of place-based science is fairly new. This shift in focus produces questions, such as: In what ways has governmental control of land predetermined or created fields of scientific inquiry? How does such administration dictate siting, research protocols, experimental containment, and required alterations to the sites?  Conversely, how does geographic specificity affect administration of research under place-based science?

In addressing these questions, this panel will apply Scott Kirsch’s holistic concept of geographical histories, Peter Galison’s technical landscapes, and other new perspectives to place-based science sites administered by governmental entities.  Each paper explores these concepts to explain and interrogate the role of the nation state in defining, administrating, and even hindering experimental spaces through the following place-based science examples: experimental stations in Central America, nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, scientific infrastructure building on Cape Canaveral, and conducting physics on formerly active Cold War sites in the Western United States.

Organized by David Kaiser (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Experiments in Colonialism & Experiments as Colonialism: The Making of the US Pacific Proving Grounds
15:00 - 15:30

Throughout the Cold War, colonies became preferred sites of nuclear weapons experimentation. The United States initiated this trend when it began testing weapons offshore in the Marshall Islands where, between 1946 and 1958, it detonated 67 of its largest nuclear bombs. As historians of science and technology have begun to explore, American researchers engaged not only in weapons research, but also in biomedical, environmental, and anthropological inquiry facilitated by these destructive tests. Equally as important to nuclear testing, however, were US legal experiments with new territorial forms in Oceania. 

This paper traces how nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands entangled with the United States’ creation and maintenance of a sui generis territorial entity—a United Nations strategic trusteeship over which the US exercised near-exclusive control. Drawing on archival research in US military, Atomic Energy Commission, Department of State, and Department of Interior records, the paper demonstrates how the creation and maintenance of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands both grew out of and justified the experiments with, and related to nuclear armaments. Simultaneously, it explores how this novel, international territorial status strictly limited Islanders’ and their allies’ legal rights to object to the appropriation and use of Indigenous lands, waters, communities, and bodies for scientific experimentation. As fallout from nuclear tests ranged worldwide, the United States’ territorial experiment contained Indigenous discontent offshore.

Proving Accelerated Wasteland: The Infrastructure of Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex
15:30 - 16:00

Early Cold War anxiety over nuclear conflict generated an unusually rapid speed of proving grounds, a site designated for military tests in technology, along the Florida coastline. Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex—a region historically occupied by the native Ais tribe and their “crude and flimsy” structures—was built over a wasteland of unstable grounds. This remote wasteland was intentionally selected by the U.S. military to construct its missile operations; a suitable decision for military security and economic stability with close proximity to the equator for launching rockets into orbit. As development of one missile technology emerged, so too did its associated infrastructure in the remote Florida wetlands. With the fear of nuclear warfare conflict on the rise during the mid-late 1950s, the launch pad infrastructures had increasingly become the image of projecting missile muscle in hopes to deter nuclear war. Beginning with a brief account of early Cape Canaveral, the seemingly rationalized techno-spatial landscapes of scientific struggle, Launch Complex 18 constructed in 1955, illustrate a culture of intense progress followed by abrupt decline and varied commemoration. This paper suggests the configuration of military infrastructure in the once remote wasteland of Florida’s coast was not a process of technologically rationalized proving ground, but instead a process of operational flexibility and ultimately a means for territorial projection and political control.

Placing Post-Cold War Physics: Attempts by Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory to Site Gravitation Physics on Military Sites
16:00 - 16:30

This paper explores how physicists of the Laser-Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) attempted to locate their research on military sites, LIGO’s negotiations with the administrators of these sites such as the U.S. military, and LIGO’s response to claimed national security concerns tied to the sites.  As the Cold War wound down, governmental and military sites active during the Cold War were either abandoned or use of the sites restructured or reduced and in many instances placing them in the holdings of the Bureau of Land Management.  In addition to exploring the unaddressed history of LIGO’s site selection history and analyzing LIGO’s experience with consideration of placement of a large-scale interferometer within military sites and decommissioned spaces, this paper will also explore how the Cold War history morphed such sites into technical landscapes.  Specifically, this paper will show that in the case of LIGO, these spaces were originally considered because they were perceived as wilderness or public land available to conduct nationally funded basic research and inexpensive due to government ownership of the land.  However, in trying to locate their research, LIGO learned that the sites were heavily regulated and controlled by remnants of the Cold War.  Thus, this paper concludes that although government lands may be less costly, such land may be nonetheless difficult to access due to each party’s perceived administrative roles the land.

Corporate Science in the Banana Republics: Research and the United Fruit Company Lands
16:30 - 17:00

The United Fruit Company (UFCo) is notorious for its influence on Latin American political and economic life during the twentieth century. UFCo’s power was rooted in its control and transformation of land. By the 1930s, it controlled more than 3.5 million acres. While converting lowland Caribbean rainforests into banana plantations, the company also remade Central American nations into neocolonial “banana republics.” This checkered history is well known to historians of business, environment, and U.S.-Latin American relations. Historians of science, however, have paid little attention to UFCo, despite its major sponsorship of scientific research and status as a prototypical transnational corporation. 

This paper examines the UFCo Research Department as a case of science at the nexus of state and corporate power, focusing particularly on the relationship between the company’s administration of scientific research and its control of land. UFCo engaged in a wide range of research in agriculture, botany, entomology, nutrition, medicine, chemistry, and even archeology. It administered an array of research sites, from the Lancetilla Experiment Station, which explored the possibilities of crop diversification, to laboratories at La Lima, which developed the chemical controls necessary to maintain vast monocultures. UFCo’s ownership of land significantly shaped scientists’ access to tropical environments. At the same time, its (fluctuating) sponsorship of science gave it new means to control and transform Latin American landscapes. Corporate science was at the center of land disputes and contested visions of economic development in the twentieth century, leaving legacies that remain in the landscape today.

Harvard University
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