How can sites of waste disposal be marked to prevent contamination in the future? Please join us for a discussion about Professor Rosemary Joyce's book, The Future of Nuclear Waste: What Art and Archaeology Can Tell Us about Securing the World’s Most Hazardous Material. Professor Joyce will be joined by Cathryn Carson, Professor of History, and Kate O’Neill, Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.
About the Book
How can sites of waste disposal be marked to prevent contamination in the future? The United States government addressed this challenge in planning for nuclear waste repositories. Consulting with experts in imagining future scenarios, in language and communication, and in anthropology, the Department of Energy sought to develop plans that would satisfy demands from the Environmental Protection Agency for a marker system that would be effective long into the future. Expert consultants proposed two very different designs: one based on archaeological sites recognized as cultural heritage monuments; the other proposing that certain forms invoke universal feelings. The Department of Energy opted for a design based on archaeological ruins, cited as proof human-made markers could last and communicate warnings for thousands of years.
This book explores the common sense assumptions the experts made about their archaeological models, and shows how they are contradicted by what archaeologists understand about these places and things. The book alternates between discussions of archaeological marker designs and reflections on the alternative proposal based on archetypes intended to arouse universal responses. Recognizing these archetype designs as similar in scale and form to Land Art projects, it compares the way government experts proposed their designs would work with views of modern artists and critics. Drawing on views of indigenous people who disproportionately are asked to accommodate such projects, the book explores concessions within the project that only oral transmission is likely to ensure such sites remain identifiable long into the future.
Rosemary Joyce's research is concerned with questions about the ways people employ things in actively negotiating their place in society, the lives and itineraries of objects, and the reframing of human engagement with the world in terms of materiality. Her published writing includes books and articles on the use of representational imagery to create and reinforce gendered identities, ranging from examinations of Classic Maya monumental art and glyphic texts, to Formative period monumental and small-scale images. Some of this work also involves mortuary analysis. She is an expert in the study of ceramic materials, including studies of crafting, use of pots in everyday life and on special occasions, and meaning-making with painted pottery vessels and figurines. Since 2010, she has been developing collaborations with colleagues in Mexico that bring the household scale approaches we developed in Honduras into a regional scale project in the hinterland of Classic Maya Palenque, in Chiapas. As a museum anthropologist, Joyce works with curated collections, including photographs and historical archives, in museums in North America, Europe, and Honduras.
Professor Cathryn Carson is a historian and ethnographer of contemporary science and technology, known for her biography of Werner Heisenberg, Heisenberg in the Atomic Age: Science and the Public Sphere. Before getting her PhD in history, she was trained in computational condensed matter physics. As Associate Dean of Social Sciences, she built D-Lab, which opened in 2013 and serves social scientists (and others) across campus doing data-intensive research. Her historical research is on Heidegger and science, including theoretical physics and conceptions of data and on risk and simulations in nuclear waste management.
Professor Kate O'Neill holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She has written three books, Waste Trading Among Rich Nations: Building a New Theory of Environmental Regulation (MIT Press, 2000) The Environment and International Relations (Cambridge University Press 2009, 2nd edition 2017), and Waste (Polity Press 2019). Waste was published by Polity Press in Summer 2019. She has worked on a collaborative project on new and innovative methods for studying global environmental politics and governance, where problems are complex, multi-scalar, and unpredictable. This includes the application of visualization tools for understanding global environmental problems.