NBA History of Science Seminar: Alex Wellerstein
Alex Wellerstein, “Seeing the Unthinkable: Historical and Contemporary Approaches to the Visualization of Nuclear War”
Nuclear war has (fortunately) not occurred since the use of two atomic bombs during World War II. In order to keep it that way, a variety of techniques have been used since 1945 to depict graphically what it would look like, developing a visual language for simulated horror. The creators of this imagery have included official government sources, standard applications of journalism, and even radical anti-nuclear geographers, among others. In this talk, I will give a critical survey of several of the techniques for visualizing nuclear war and nuclear weapons effects deployed from the Cold War through the present day, with an eye to the way in which different approaches reinforce or counteract different narratives about nuclear war. I will also talk about my own attempts to contribute to this genre as both a historian and graphic designer, including NUKEMAP and "Plan A," and chart out where I think this work could go in the future.
Alex Wellerstein is an Assistant Professor and Director of Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. He received a PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University in 2010. His book, Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in early 2021. He is also the creator of the NUKEMAP, an online nuclear weapons simulator that has been used by over 30 million people globally, and the author of Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog.