ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Notes toward a Global Nuclear History

This article argues that a discourse of 'control', authored by the overlapping narratives of academic proliferation studies and US anti-proliferation policy, has come to dominate our understanding of nuclear histories. This discourse, with its primary purpose of seeking to predict which countries are likely to build nuclear weapons and thereby to threaten the prevailing military-strategic status quo, has narrowed the gaze of nuclear historians. Among its effects has been to minimise the importance of the discovery of atomic fission as a 'world historical' event and to impoverish our recognition of the fluidity of international affairs in the decade following the end of the second world war. We are concerned about the tendency to see nuclear histories as, above all, 'national' histories, and, to privilege concerns about the development of nuclear 'weapons' over a fuller and more nuanced understanding of what nuclear programmes mean and why they matter. We propose that paying attention to the scientific-technological underpinnings of nuclear programmes offers an alternative path, opening up new archives and insights into the making of 'national' nuclear programmes which might have important other, even non-belligerent, ends. This article points to the varieties and importance of international collaboration in the making of 'national' programmes, and shows how weapons-building is by no means a universal end of all nuclear programmes.

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