Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Yale University
Atomic Afterlives, Pacific Archives: Unsettling the Geographies and Science of Nuclear Colonialism in the Marshall Islands and Hawaiʻi

My project expands the history of US Cold War nuclear colonialism by focusing on the forced displacement of Marshallese peoples into the Hawaiian islands. Between June 1946 and August 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear weapons within the Marshall Islands. During this period of nuclear detonations, the United States relocated Marshallese communities from four atolls supposedly exposed to nuclear fallout: Bikini, Rongelap, Enewetak, and Utirik. These communities were exiled across the Marshalls, the Hawaiian Islands, and even repatriated to their home atolls well before it was deemed safe for them to return. In precarious diaspora or in states of exception within their home atolls, these communities face the continued medical consequences of radiation exposure, racial discrimination in and outside of the Marshalls, and more recently, further displacement due to climate-change induced sea level rise and economic instability. Despite their historical centrality to America’s emergence as a global hegemon during the Cold War, the Marshallese have been elided in scholarship about the Cold War itself. My dissertation demonstrates how different our narration of the Cold War and its legacies becomes when we center Marshallese histories and experiences. I focus on the stories of Marshall Islanders who were subject to nuclear radiation exposure and forced displacement to Hawaiʻi, especially the Big Island, as a result of US nuclear detonation programs in the Marshalls in the midcentury. I situate these stories in relation to the Trust Territory period, the years from 1947-1968 in which the United States was the “Administering Authority” over the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, of which the Marshalls were a part. My study of the impact of US nuclear colonialism also includes an examination of militarism and the militarization of the Pacific throughout the 20th century, as well as contemporary demilitarization and decolonization efforts in the Pacific.