HL90 EQ: Nuclear Imperialisms

Looking for more HL90s? Rebecca Hogue chatted with us about the history and culture of nuclearism and settled the Godzilla vs. Mothra question!

Tell us about your class! What do you think its relevance to the present is?

These days, when nuclear issues are in the news, we think of “nuclear codes,” threats of pressing the “nuclear button” while world leaders simultaneously try to avoid total annihilation. But what if, for many people around the world, the apocalypse has already happened, and its effects are ongoing? My class will think about nuclearism–from mushroom clouds to nuclear waste–as another form of imperialism, but will focus on how brave and creative people around the world have rallied together, and are continuing to rally, for awareness and justice. 

What texts are you looking forward to sharing with students?

I’m very excited to watch well known films and TV series like Godzilla and Star Trek: The Original Series alongside Indigenous activist writing from Micronesia or Aboriginal poetry from Australia. Nuclear issues, as we will explore, take many aesthetic forms, both familiar and unfamiliar, and sometimes genre-bending. One of my favorite pieces we will watch/read is Marshallese poet-activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s and Taiwanese videographer Dan Lin’s video-poem “Anointed” from 2018. They mix archival footage, spoken word poetry, and drone videography to tell the story of ecological harm and resilience in the Marshall Islands’ nuclear legacy.

What’s something we might not know about this subject?

This August, the US will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the detonation of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Often times, those are the only use of nuclear weapons people will have heard of, and not, for example, the over 300 hundred weapons detonated in the Pacific Islands alone. Over a period of fifty years! In response to this problem, Maori activist Titewai Harawira asked in an anti-nuclear campaign speech, “why haven’t you known?” Exploring why and how the public is under-informed about these histories will be one of the goals of our class. Maybe it’s classified? Maybe it’s propaganda.

You mentioned Godzilla, so we have to ask: Godzilla or Mothra?

Definitely Godzilla! But I also want to put in a plug for another kaiju film character: Jet Jaguar. He’s friends with Godzilla, helpful to humans, and is always smiling! And he flies!

To learn more, you can see the syllabus on Canvas, attend a drop-in session on Tuesday, August 18 at 1pm, or email Rebecca! Nuclear Imperialisms meets Tuesday/Thursday 6-7:15 this fall.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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