The Great Chernobyl Acceleration

The Great Chernobyl Acceleration

Kate Brown is Professor of History in the Science, Technology, and Society Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Kate Brown

What do we know about the Chernobyl disaster? Working through Soviet archives, Brown encountered many contradictory accounts of the catastrophe and its effects. Local doctors reported “a public health disaster” among people exposed to Chernobyl fallout. International experts refuted that claim. Realizing that though people and archives lie, trees probably don’t, Brown turned to scientists—biologists, foresters, physicians, and physicists—to help her understand the ecology of the greater Chernobyl territories.  She learned that contaminants saturated local eco-systems long before the Chernobyl accident and continued long after the 1986 event. Brown argues that to call Chernobyl an “accident” is to sweep aside the decades of radiation exposure that rained down on the globe during the period of nuclear testing. Instead of a one-off accident, Brown argues that Chernobyl was a point of acceleration on a timeline of radioactive contamination that continues to this day.

Kate Brown is the author of the prize-winning histories Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013) and A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004). Brown was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. Her work has also been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the NEH, ACLS, IREX, and the American Academy of Berlin, among others. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, was published in 2019 by Norton (US), Penguin Lane (UK), Czarne (Poland), Capitán Swing (Spanish). In 2020, it will be translated into Ukrainian, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Lithuanian, French, Chinese, and Korean.

This event is organized by the Wastelands Faculty Seminar and is being co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, Department of History and International and Area Studies Program.