Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

M. Susan Lindee

Abstract

This dissertation is a sociolegal history of American nuclear weapons testing and contamination in the Marshall Islands. It uses weapons testing as a window into changing patterns of America’s offshore imperialism following World War II. Tracing the legal aspects of testing and contamination, it asks how administrators, islanders, and activists called upon shifting configurations of law, technology, and science to define the relationship between America’s growing global power and its core democratic principles. Following World War II, U.S. officials crafted a new political entity under the auspices of the United Nations—a strategic trusteeship—to administer Pacific islands it seized from Japan. The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) was the only dependency of this kind. Under strategic trusteeship, the Marshall Islands became an offshore site of American nuclear weapons testing. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 of its most powerful nuclear weapons at Bikini and Enewetak atolls. From the initiation of testing through the present day, islanders and allies have looked to law and science as ways of participating in nuclear affairs and of demonstrating their injuries. Going to court revealed the newly expansive, unchecked scope of American executive power offshore. But American domination was not absolute. Working with advocates and allies, affected islanders used law and science to participate more fully in nuclear affairs and to assert alternative epistemologies about the value of their homelands. This dissertation establishes the centrality of the entangled fields of technoscience and law in changing patterns of America’s offshore territoriality. It establishes the importance of law as a central arena of conflict in the transnational nuclear politics. Simultaneously, it shows how technoscience has been implicated in legal aspects of, and conflict over American imperialism.

Available for download on Friday, April 19, 2019

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