Without the knowledge of physicists, nuclear weapons would have never been built. Their expertise enabled the leaders of states and the military to put nuclear fission to strategic use, transforming the post-war world in the process. These experts’ reports became more and more important after 1945, as the knowledge society developed dynamically. This was true particularly with regard to the potential and consequences of military and civil use of nuclear energy.
Apart from natural scientists, there were social scientists and “counter experts” who emerged from civil protest movements and took part in the debate. The latter especially pointed out the risks connected to nuclear technologies and supported either non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or even the end of the civil utilisation of nuclear energy. In doing so, they followed a particular strategy: as allegedly apolitical experts, they created a reality in which political, military and civil discourses circulated.
Nuclear experts and nuclear expertise in a global context after 1945 will be the subject of an international workshop at Humboldt University of Berlin, taking place on 6 and 7 October 2014 and sponsored generously by the university’s Excellence Initiative. The workshop, which will be the starting point for a collaborative (Austrian, British and German) research project, will examine nuclear knowledge and its carriers at four levels: the personal, the institutional, the epistemic and the social.
The workshop’s focus will be guided by the following six questions:
1. How can we understand nuclear expertise and knowledge about nuclear energy in a global context during the Cold War?
2. Who was a nuclear expert and how did they justify their status as such? What role did trust as an immaterial resource play in that context?
3. How did experts organise? What networks and institutions were there? How did experts from countries further from the centre of the Cold War (esp. South Africa, India, China) participate?
4. Did this “community of knowledge” develop a transnational identity? In what way did this help to homogenise conflicting local or national interests?
5. How did third parties (governments, the public, protest movements) perceive globally acting nuclear experts?
6. What part did experts play with regard to (non-) proliferation of nuclear weapons and in the debate about civil nuclear safety and security?
The workshop is designed to be interdisciplinary and is directed at researchers from all fields. Its aim is to offer an overview of current and future research projects and create a forum for academic exchange of ideas. Please send your proposal for a presentation of 20 minutes concerning one of the set of questions listed above and a one-page CV to Jan Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 28 February 2014. The working language will be English. The hosts will meet the travel and accommodation expenses.