B.A. Comparative Literature and French, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
My research explores connections, tensions, and boundaries between science and politics in colonial and postcolonial context. Not only a tool of empire, technical knowledge became a resource for experts, diplomats, politicians, activists, and ordinary folks to contest domination and assert independence. But such claims were fraught. Professional, political, even racialized identities came under strict scrutiny, intersecting with questions of trust, authority, and accuracy. My work locates these concerns at the heart of processes of decolonization in twentieth-century Africa and the changes produced in relationships with other parts of the world. I find that archives of biomedical, environmental, and social sciences offer a particularly sharp lens. My dissertation project considers how nuclear explosions in Africa braided these disciplines together with politics, diplomacy, and war in a knotted and tangled way.
My dissertation shows how demands for decolonization in 1960s Africa collided with the Cold War arms race. This project aims at a history of the international controversy surrounding the French bomb, whose existence France proved in the Algerian Sahara during the Algerian War for Independence (1954–62). Codenamed Gerboise bleue and conducted in February 1960, this atmospheric blast was the first atomic explosion on African soil, and it drew condemnation across the continent, from neighboring Morocco and Tunisia, to Ghana and Nigeria on the other side of the desert. France nonetheless continued with three more atmospheric tests in Algeria’s contested sands, before moving its nuclear program beneath Saharan mountains. France’s shift to underground testing in Africa coincided with Algerian Independence in 1962, and the thirteen explosions that France conducted through 1965 beneath the newly sovereign nation remained a thorn in Franco-Algerian relations, exposing their importance for the Cold War in North Africa.
Radiation risk, I argue, became a key frame for understanding African decolonization and its complicated intersections with the arms race. African protests cast French testing at once as a part of a longer history of colonial exploitation and as a new threat, one that sent radioactive debris into the wind. The scope of this fallout debate exceeded Africa, however, to include the interventions that newly independent countries could make in the Cold War’s bipolar standoff. Saharan testing became a matter of open debate and covert negotiations at the United Nations (UN) and its agencies and committees, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). These talks revealed the stakes of Saharan fallout, not only for the superpowers, but also for the promise of Afro-Asian solidarity, Third Worldism, and non-alignment during the Cold War.
My dissertation draws mainly on scientific, diplomatic, and personal collections in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France. As part of this project, I have requested and obtained declassification of documents from several countries. I also work closely with records of international organizations as well as published primary sources from the scientific literature and popular press.
My research has been supported by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) program, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) program, Penn Dissertation Research Fellowship, Nuclear Proliferation International History Project at the Wilson Center, and Eisenhower and Johnson Presidential Libraries.
nuclear history; international history; postcolonial history; history of twentieth century; health and safety; expertise and government; biomedical, environmental, social sciences; science and empire; scientific diplomacy; STS.
“The Rapport Laroque-Ollive Revisited: Economy, Social Citizenship, and African Migration in Interwar France,” Outre-Mers, Revue d’histoire 107, no. 404–05, Dec 2019: 69–84.
“A Ray of Sunshine on French Tables”: Citrus Fruit, Colonial Agronomy, and French Rule in Algeria (1930–1962)" Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 49 No. 3, June 2019: 241-272.