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  Educators Course Syllabi History, Barrow - America in the Nuclear Age

History 4214: Topics in Science, Technology, and Medicine
America in the Nuclear Age
Spring 1997

Instructor: Dr. Mark V. Barrow, Jr.
Virginia Tech
Office: 415 Major Williams; Phone: 231-4099 (O), 552-5876 (H)
Office Hours: M, W 9:00-10:00 a.m., and by appointment
E-mail: barrow@vt.edu

Prerequisites: This course is one of a series of writing-intensive, senior-level seminars

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designed primarily for history majors. The formal prerequisites include: Hist 2004, one other history class, and junior or senior standing. These requirements may be waived at the instructor's discretion for qualified students.

Objectives: Although scientists had long dreamed of unlocking the power of the atom, not until World War II did they finally figured out a way to achieve this goal. Since then atomic energy has had a powerful impact on every facet of American life. The bomb has influenced military strategy and diplomacy, transformed the cultural climate of the United States, and changed out views about science and technology. Through readings, films, discussions, and writing assignments, this course explores the far-reaching implications of nuclear technologies for American history and culture.

1. Attendance and Participation: Students are expected to attend each class meeting, to complete the assigned readingbefore class, and to offer informed contributions to the class discussion. To help focus the reading and facilitiate discussion, students may be asked to bring in a brief response to or a list of important questions/issues raised by the readings for that particular class.

2. Reading: The following books may be purchased at the University Bookstore, Volume Two Bookstore, and Tech Bookstore. Most of them are also on reserve at Newman Bookstore.

  • Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light
  • Philip Cantelon, The American Atom: A Documentary History . . . , 2nd ed.
  • John Hersey, Hiroshima, new ed.
  • Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Bomb
  • Allan Winkler, Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Atom

The following books have been placed on reserve for student use, but are not required reading:

  • Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images
  • Richard Wolfson, Nuclear Choices: A Citizen's Guide to Nuclear Technology

In addition to the assigned books, supplemental readings will occasionally be passed out in class or posted on the Web.

3. Reaction Papers: During the first part half of the semester, 6 short reaction papers (ca. 2 pp., double-spaced or 500 words each) will be assigned according to the schedule below. Sometimes the topic may be specified; other times it will be open. In either case, reaction papers will be returned with comments as soon as possible (usually within the week following submission). Late submissions may be subject to penalties. Occasionally reaction papers may be discussed in class and/or peer-graded.

4. Research/Term Paper: All participants in the seminar are required to complete a ca. 15 page double-spaced (or ca. 3,750 word) paper on a topic of their choice (to be negotiated with the instructor). The paper must be based on original research and use appropriate primary and secondary source materials. It should also contain proper documentation (footnotes and bibliography) cited in the standard format historians generally use (i.e., the styles in Kate Turabian, Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, or Dissertations, 6th ed., or The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed.). Early initiation and consistent effort throughout the term are crucial to the production of a successful paper. To encourage students to begin working early and to provide opportunities for feedback from others in the course, participants will occasionally be asked to report to the class on how their work is progressing. In addition, a short abstract /working bibliography and initial draft will be due according to the schedule below. At one of the sessions near the end of the semester, students will formally present their research to the rest of the seminar. The final paper is due on the last day of classes.

Some ideas for appropriate research paper topics include:

  • Japanese Reaction to Hiroshima and/or Nagasaki
  • The Enola Gay Controversy
  • The Bomb as Depicted in Art, Literature, Music, or Film
  • Debates about the Effects of Fallout (e.g., Atomic Veterans and Downwinders)
  • The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission
  • Atomic Espionage (e.g., Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Klaus Fuchs)
  • Civil Defense and Bomb Shelters
  • National Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE)
  • The Development of Commercial Nuclear Reactors
  • Nuclear Disasters (e.g., Three Mile Island or Cherynobl)
  • Human Radiation Experiments
  • Anti-Nuclear Protest (against nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power)
  • Evolution of Nuclear Weapons Policy (e.g., MAD, deterrence, Star Wars)
  • Radiation before the Bomb
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Biographical explorations of major figures associated with the bomb or nuclear energy

This list is not exhaustive, but only meant to suggest the broad range of possible topics that might be explored in a research paper for this seminar. Whatever topic the student chooses, it should be basically historical in orientation and cleared with me before proceeding.

5. Class Homepage: The Internet contains a wealth of material on nuclear technology. To take advantage of this valuable resource and provide students with computing skills, the class will construct a homepage with links to helpful nuclear-related sources. At least twice during the semester we will convene at one of the campus computer labs to review Internet searching strategies, to locate and share sources, and work on research papers. During these visits (and perhaps at other occasions during the semester) students will be required to submit URLs and/or bibliographic references to add to the class homepage, which will then be available for the rest of the class and future classes.

6. Grades: Grades for the course will be based on the reaction papers (30%), class attendance and participation (including any homework assignments) (35%), and final paper (35%).

Date Topic Reading Assignment
1/13 Class Introduction None  
1/15 Introduction to the Internet Meet in Maj. Bill 502  
1/20 Film: The Day After Trinity None  
1/22 Hopes and Fears: Nuclear Imagery *Weart, Cantelon I, 1 Reaction Paper
1/27 Manhattan Project Winkler 1, Cantelon 2-5, II
1/29 Defending the Bomb *Stimpson, *Harris, Cantelon 9, 11-12, 14, 18, 21 Reaction Paper
2/3 Questioning the Bomb Takaki 1-4, Cantlelon 13, 15, 20
2/5 Class Debate: The Decision Takaki 5-7 Reaction Paper
2/10 Computer Lab Visit Hersey 1-4
2/12 Hiroshima and Nagasaki Hersey 5 Reaction Paper
2/17 The Enola Gay Controversy TBA
2/19 The Dawn of the Atomic Age Boyer 1-3 Reaction Paper
2/24 Controlling Atomic Energy Winkler 2, Cantelon III, 22
2/26 Fantasies and Implications Boyer 8, 10-11 Reaction Paper
3/1-9 Spring Break    
3/10 Film: Atomic Cafe Boyer 16-19, *Jacobs, *Loader  
3/12 Assessing the Early Atomic Era Boyer 20-23 Abstract & Biblio
3/17 Film: The Weapon of Choice Winkler 3
3/19 The H-Bomb Cantelon IV, V, 27-38
3/24 Film: Radio Bikini or On the Beach Winkler 4, *Hacker
3/26 Fallout TBA
3/31 Civil Defense Winkler 5, *Peil, *Teller
4/7 Film: Dr. Strangelove Winkler 7 Final Paper Draft
4/9 Search for Stability None
4/14 The Peaceful Atom Winkler 6, Cantelon 65-71
4/16 Film: The Bomb's Lethal Legacy Winkler 8
4/21 After the Cold War *Butler, *Goodpastor
4/23 Student Presentations None
4/28 Student Presentations None
4/30 Concluding Thoughts None Final Paper