History of the atomic bomb from the beginning of nuclear physics to the security hearing of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Includes a study of the scientific achievements that made the bomb possible, the decision to deploy the bomb, the moral misgivings of the scientists involved.
On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, utterly destroying them and thus bringing about the end of World War II in the Pacific. The use of atomic bombs also heralded a new era that many saw as encompassing the peril of nuclear holocaust, but also the hope of scientific progress and the end of war. Accordingly, we will examine in this course the technological, political, and cultural significance of nuclear weapons. Our time frame will span the late 1930s through the 1960s, though we may go as far as the 1970s and 1980s. We will explore, among others, such topics as: the development of nuclear weapons, science and the postwar American state, the Cold War, the nuclear arms race and efforts at arms control, and cultural reactions to the nuclear age. Lectures will provide a broad framework for the course as well as specific information; in addition, students will be expected to critically engage with course texts and assess their historical significance.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
None required, though previous coursework in either science or history will be helpful.
Class assignments and grading
Two essays (5-7 pp. in length), one midterm exam, a final examination, and (possibly) response papers for the purpose of discussion.