Mary Mitchell

Doctoral candidate
Entered 2011
J.D., Drexel University
M.A., History, University of Pennsylvania
B.A., Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
Contact Information
Office Address: 
335 Claudia Cohen Hall
Email Address:
Teaching Fields: 

History of Science, Technology, & Medicine; Legal History; Bioethics; Professional Ethics

Research Interests: 

My dissertation, tentatively titled “Test Cases,” is a legal history of American nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands.  Following a series of episodes from the close of World War II through the early 2000s, I use nuclear weapons testing as a window into the ways in which law, technology, and science entangled in America’s extraterritorial imperialism.  Although the U.S. exercised near complete control over the Marshall Islands, detonating sixty-seven above-ground nuclear devices there between 1946 and 1958, the islands were not a part of the U.S.’s sovereign territory.  Following World War II, the Marshall Islands became part of a United Nations “security trusteeship,” administered by the United States.

This new legal formulation of sovereignty, coupled with the widespread, material distribution of byproducts from nuclear testing, had sweeping consequences.  For Marshall Islanders exposed to radiation and those whom U.S. administrators removed from their home atolls, security trusteeship created high barriers to meaningful legal and political participation.  But attempts to seek legal redress for the injuries of America’s nuclear imperialism also revealed how the newly expansive scope of executive power—expansive both in geographical reach and capacities for mass destruction—proceeded largely unchecked by the Constitution and the courts.  Using legal contestation over nuclear weapons testing as a window into these issues, I explore how and why U.S. administrators, Marshall Islanders, and antinuclear activists called upon shifting configurations of law, technology, and science to attempt to define the relationship between America’s growing global power and its core democratic principles. 

Selected Publications: 

“Storyscapes and Emplacement, Layer by Layer,” Change Over Time 3 (2013): 162-173 (with David Barnes).