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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities



Cold War Archipelagoes: Militarization, Performance, Ecology

Katherine Zien • McGill University

April 25th @ 6pm  Daniel Family Commons

This talk considers the work of archipelagic thinking and theories of performance in the wake of the Cold War-era militarization of islands in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. Specifically, I query the reinscription of imperial logics of terra nullius, racial hierarchies, and developmentalism combined with conditions specific to the form of US “New Empire,” as Amy Kaplan has defined it. While the midcentury militarization of Caribbean and Pacific islands may have been nothing new, the Cold War added a distinctive facet arising from the anticipatory frame that the latent threat of nuclear annihilation overlaid onto the world: a looming sense of and desire for prognostication, gamification, testing, and simulation. I will undertake a comparative examination of two forms of the “test” during the Cold War: Operation Portrex in Vieques (1950) and Operation Castle Bravo, part of a series of thermonuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands (1946-1958). While focusing on these US military exercises, I will also touch upon the role of Cuba, as another crucial island in the Cold War archipelago. By linking far-flung insular sites through these axes, I will examine the ways in which metaphors, images, and ideas of the island – laden with imperial histories and envisioned as a combination of contained laboratory and passive, unpeopled landscape – became key elements in US military logics of testing, training, and rehearsal during the Cold War.

Islands as Metaphor and Method
View Spring 2022 Lecture List

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