Benjamin T. Wilson (Department of the History of Science)
Freshman Seminar 52G 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment: Limited to 12
This seminar explores major issues in nuclear weapons history and policy. Did the use of atomic bombs by the United States against Japan end the Second World War? Have nuclear arsenals prevented a direct conflict between nuclear powers since 1945? Why have some countries pursued nuclear arsenals while others have not? Could society survive a nuclear war in any meaningful sense, and should we prepare for that possibility? What harms has the pursuit of nuclear weapons caused to natural environments and human bodies? How have fictional portrayals shaped our understanding of the nuclear age? Is there any hope of eliminating nuclear weapons? Our discussions will take up classic historical controversies about the role of nuclear weapons in war and international relations, as well as major theoretical debates in nuclear deterrence theory and nuclear proliferation. We will study the arguments of activists, feminists, and other critics of nuclear weapons, and we will use several films and a novel to consider the place of nuclear weapons in modern culture. In a final project, students will have the option of writing a “white paper” or “op-ed” on a current nuclear policy question, or pursuing a historical or creative project in consultation with the instructor.