Writing Pugwash Histories. From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Kabul and Gaza

Writing Pugwash Histories. From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Kabul and Gaza

Silke Fengler, University of Vienna; Alison Kraft,Egenis, University of Exeter; Holger Nehring, University of Sheffield, AKHF; Carola Sachse, University of Vienna; in cooperation with Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler
Institute for Contemporary History, University of Vienna
Vom - Bis
10.05.2012 - 12.05.2012
Fengler, Silke

For nuclear physicists, chemists and technicians, the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cast a painfully sharp light on the military and biopolitical consequences of their work during the Second World War. In the nuclear arms race between the Cold War superpowers, many nuclear scientists felt able, justified and indeed called upon to campaign against the continued development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Those scientists included some who had themselves helped to develop the atom bomb.

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Among the various national and transnational groupings working against nuclear war, the Pugwash movement stands out. Even today, it evokes the July 1955 manifesto that was drafted by Bertrand Russell and co-signed by Albert Einstein just before his death. The movement took its name from the location of its first meeting, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia in summer 1957. So far, 59 “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs” and numerous workshops have been held in various regions of the world. From the beginning, the movement aimed to bring together eminent scientists, scholars, politicians, diplomats and government advisers across the hostile frontiers of the Cold War. The “Pugwashites” wanted to go beyond the exchange of diplomatic notes or military force, instead using the shared language of science to evaluate the risks of nuclear armament, develop solutions to regional conflicts and exert influence on national governments with the goal of promoting world peace.

The themes addressed by the Pugwash conferences have diversified to reflect the changing problems facing international politics – climate change; crises of energy, food and natural resources. Since the movement was founded its membership structure has also changed, as have the scientific disciplines and professions of its members, its objectives, methods and modes of cooperation, and its role within the debates of global politics.

Pugwash movement: History or histories

To date, the history of the Pugwash movement has been told largely through chronological accounts, memoirs and partial studies of national Pugwash groups. Writing a comprehensive history of the movement is perhaps not possible at the present time. On the one hand, the informal structure of the Pugwash movement means it is known only to a relatively small audience, and has attracted little attention from historians even since the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the movement and its secretary general, Joseph Rotblat, in 1995. On the other, although the Pugwash movement has an international presence, it is embedded in very different scientific, social and political configurations in different countries and regions. As a result, it seems neither possible nor desirable to write a single, unified narrative of the movement's peace-policy successes and global political significance.

Instead, what we need are multi-faceted histories written from a range of distinct national and regional perspectives. Only in this way will historians be able to fully understand the distinctive character of the Pugwash movement in the long term, its survival through time and across such profound political changes and its contributions to international dialogue. From its inception, Pugwash oscillated between an elitist claim to universal scientific expertise, links with transnational movements for peace and against nuclear weapons, and integration into the local political establishments. It therefore offers an outstanding opportunity to consider national and international connections between science and politics, which became increasingly complex during the second half of the twentieth century. Analysing these interrelations from a transnational perspective necessitates a large, cooperative network of historians, able to take a range of different thematic and regional approaches.

Objectives of the workshop

The wide and diverse literature on the Cold War by political historians, historians of science and historians of diplomacy has hitherto yielded only a small number of informative studies of the Pugwash movement (these include Evangelista 1999; Kubbig 2004; Butcher 2005; Braun 2007). The proposed workshop intends to form a springboard for a more broadly based engagement with the topic. Our objectives include:
- to exchange information regarding existing research and ongoing projects relating to the history of the Pugwash movement in various different countries,
- using completed, current and planned research projects as a point of entry, to discuss history of science and political history dimensions of the Pugwash movement,
- to examine methodological approaches, the state of documentation and questions around archival sources relevant to Pugwash.

Who is invited?

We invite proposals from scholars in the history of science, social and political history, and related disciplines. You should either have worked directly on the history of the Pugwash movement or addressed it in the course of other research. Proposals related to ongoing PhD or postdoctoral projects are particularly welcome.

Please submit a one-page proposal and brief CV in English to office_sachse.zeitgeschichte@univie.ac.at by 31 October, 2011. We will notify selected participants in November 2011. Papers of no more than 3,500 words must be submitted, in English, by 31 March, 2012.

Funding is still pending. We hope to be able to cover travel costs for up to ten participants (max. € 400 each).


Prof. Dr. Carola Sachse
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Dr. Silke Fengler
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Dr. Alison Kraft
ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis)
University of Exeter
Byrne House, St. Germans Road


Martina Schmied
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Sponsored by: Institute for Contemporary History, University of Vienna, and Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung (AKHF)
Conveners: Silke Fengler (University of Vienna), Alison Kraft (Egenis, University of Exeter), Holger Nehring (University of Sheffield, AKHF), and Carola Sachse (University of Vienna)
Keynote speaker: Matthew Evangelista (Cornell University)
In cooperation with: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (contact: Sandra Ionno Butcher), and Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (VDW, contact: Reiner Braun)



Dr. Silke Fengler

Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
1090 Wien