Reconstructing Nuclear Environments and the Hanford Downwinders Case

Workshop #1: “Telling the Stories of Radiation Exposure.” June 21-22, 2018 (Thursday and Friday)

It is a pleasure to invite proposals to the workshop, “Telling the Stories of Radiation Exposure.” This workshop is organized by Jacob Darwin Hamblin and Linda M. Richards at Oregon State University (OSU), as part of National Science Foundation Award #1734618, “Reconstruction Nuclear Environments and the Hanford Downwinders Case.” It is one of three workshops planned between 2018 and 2020.


What is at stake when researching and narrating the history of radiation exposure? This broad question is intended to provoke discussion among scholars, activists, and other citizens about the many challenges in researching, writing, or talking about past exposures to radiation. The histories of so-called “Downwinders” are contentious, in part because of ongoing litigation and scientific controversy. Yet the story must be told, and we must face the challenge.

We wish to think broadly about methodological, conceptual, ethical, or social justice challenges that must be considered as we try to grapple with this past. Proposal topics need not deal specifically with the Hanford Downwinders case; indeed, we would like to draw insights from those familiar with the history of radiation exposure in other historical contexts and in other parts of the United States and wider world. Our goal is to gather original contributions that not only can guide the work of our Downwinders project (which includes oral history, archival development, and original scholarship), but also can generate productive conversations about the kinds of issues all scholars should address when conducting such work.

By “workshop,” we mean a gathering of presentations and conversations geared toward helping one another improve the quality of scholarship and public discourse. In this workshop, we are soliciting proposals in two distinct groups, with an eye toward mixing academic and non-academic participants:

  1. historians and other humanities or social science scholars. We welcome proposals from historians of science, STS scholars, environmental historians, and others familiar with the historical dimensions of public health and environmental exposure. The topic should connect empirical historical work to an important methodological challenge, or to a historiographic question of broad importance. The proposer should hold a Ph.D. in a relevant field, or be an advanced Ph.D. student in a relevant field. The proposal should be original, with the idea that it could be developed as a peer-reviewable essay. The contribution should not be a duplicate of previous or forthcoming work.
  2. individuals whose personal and/or professional lives can shed light on this work. We are especially interested in engaging with discourse outside the academic world, among communities suffering from exposure or studying effects of exposure. The participant  should be prepared to speak about the subject and participate in the discussions throughout the workshop. The participant should indicate whether s/he would be willing to have a transcription made of the presentation, and if s/he would be willing to be interviewed for the project (these are not required but it will help us to think about how to organize the workshop). Transcriptions would be held in OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center.

Practical details

Date of workshop: June 21-22, 2018

Deadline for submission: January 15, 2018

Costs: We anticipate defraying some of the costs of travel for participants in the workshop.

Email queries and submissions to:

What to submit: a) an abstract of one page or less explaining the topic/theme of your contribution, including mention of specific events that will feature in your contribution (see above for overview of the two different kinds of contributions); b) a paragraph biographical sketch

Please review the grant overview before sending a proposal.

Link to the conference website

Research Opportunities

While at OSU, workshop participants will be encouraged to make use of our extensive holdings at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center, which include:

Nuclear History

The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers 

Final thoughts

The overall purpose of the project is to digitize records, analyze documents, record oral histories, and share different perspectives on radiation exposure, the process of dose reconstruction, and other issues related to the Downwinders case. This grant supports the first wave of scholarship on how scientists reconstructed Hanford radiation exposure doses during the 1990s.

This first workshop will ground scholars’ future work by addressing conceptual and methodological challenges confronting historical work on radiation exposure, broadly conceived across time and geography. Future workshops will focus on more specific historical topics, especially related to dose reconstruction at Hanford.

We look forward to seeing you at the workshop!

Sincerely, Jake Hamblin and Linda Richards


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