Peter L. Galison. Wasteland and Wilderness

John McDonald Moore Memorial Lecture Wed 20 Oct 2010 8.00PM-10.00PM The New School, Wollman Hall
55 West 11th Street (enter at 66 West 12th Street), 5th Floor
Free admission
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The Fifth John McDonald Moore Memorial Lecture is delivered by Peter L. Galison, historian, writer, filmmaker, and Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics at Harvard University. Galison was appointed a Guggenheim Fellow in 2009, won the Max Planck Prize in 1999, and was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1997.

In this lecture, Galison addresses speculation as it pertains to inaccessible sites, focusing on "nuclear wastelands" and "pure wilderness." As they are usually understood, these designations are opposites; when they converge into nature reserves on the sites of decommissioned nuclear weapons lands we often describe this circumstance as "paradoxical" or "ironic." Taking stock of plans to handle lands that will remain saturated with radionuclides for tens of thousands of years, Galison argues that the categories of wasteland and wilderness are far from dichotomous; their relationship is much more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity and corruption. Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity—for reasons of sanctification or despoilment—alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as unfit for humans.

Named after one of the university's most influential art history teachers, this six-part lecture series honors John McDonald Moore's contribution to the university's intellectual life. Moore taught art history and criticism at The New School from 1968 until his death in 1999. Not unlike the speakers in this series—Stephanie Barron, Michael Brenson, Boris Groys, Linda Nochlin, and now Peter L. Galison—Moore brought to his students the vision of an artist who is also a scholar, and his classes were famously popular. His students, family, and friends established this lecture series in 2000.

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Peter L. Galison is a historian, writer, filmmaker, and Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics at Harvard University. He is the author of several books, among them Image & Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (1998) which won the Pfizer Award from the History of Science Society. His book Einstein's Clocks and Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time (2003) was one of the first to draw close links between the young Albert Einstein and the French mathematician Henri Poincaré who made parallel attempts to harness time and helped create the science of relativity. Galison co-wrote Objectivity (2007) with his colleague Lorraine Dastonof of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Their book examines how the idea of scientific objectivity evolved from the 17th century to the present day from the study of curiosities, through the representations of perfect, notional specimens, to a concept of objectivity as responsibility for science. He is currently finishing another book, Building Crashing Thinking, about technologies that reform the self.

Galison has been involved in the production of two documentary films. The first, The Ultimate Weapon: The H-Bomb Dilemma, focused on the political and scientific decisions behind the creation of the first hydrogen bomb in the United States, and premiered on the History Channel in 2000. The second film, Secrecy, co-directed with Harvard filmmaker Robb Moss, is about the costs and benefits of government secrecy, and premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Galison is beginning a new feature documentary film on nuclear landscapes. Like his scholarly work, these films ultimately address how the tools and techniques used to visualize scientific information influence our understanding of science, and the course of scientific research itself.

Presented on occasion of the Vera List Center's 2009-2011 focus theme "Speculating on Change."