My research focuses on the intersections of the histories of science, technology, and the environment during the Cold War. I am particularly interested in histories that transcend traditional geopolitical and geographical boundaries, and in the human and non-human actors that traverse, resist, and/or collapse these boundaries. My current research falls into the following programs.
Environmental History of Near Earth Space
My primary research program explores changes over time in the nearest reaches of outer space, particularly the region between the nebulously defined upper atmopshere and the Moon. My first book project, tentatively titled Orbital Decay: The History of Space Junk and the Expanding Boundaries of the Natural World, reveals how humankind mutually shaped and was shaped by new access to this strange, unruly, invisible global resource, and the roots of an international consciousness of near-Earth space as a natural environment at risk from the first moments of the Space Age. I focus on the rise of a system of waste in orbit around the planet. The artifacts colloquially known as "space junk" have inspired as much conflict along the dialectic of waste and utility as more familiar, terrestrial forms of waste. The space environment itself--popularly understood as the antithesis of the natural, external to the biosphere itself--has played a role in the movement of these artifacts, bringing states, legal regimes, and even bodies into unexpected, perilous contact during the Cold War and into recent history.
This blog has not been updated in some time, but includes thoughts while in residence as a Guggenheim Fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2013-14.
Republican Motherhood and Extraterrestrial Futurity
The civic role of (particularly white) women as reproducers of the body politic has existed since the days of Spartan motherhood--a time and place in which women could not vote or hold leadership positions, but could participate in politics by bearing sons who would perpetuate Spartan ideology. This role transformed into the Republican Motherhood borne by white settler women, responsible for spreading Anglo culture (and white populations) into the American "wild west" during the 18th and 19th centuries. The concept and its sanctity have proven remarkably durable. Republican Motherhood as the primary domain and function of frontier-going women extended into the final frontier, as evidenced in both fictional portrayals and historical treatment of women spacefarers during the Cold War. I orient these cultural artifacts within feminist theory, science fiction, extraterrestrial futurism, and space policy to demonstrate the persistance of a reproductive futurity bound to and within the female body, even in grand visions of humanity's future beyond planet Earth.
Planetary Analog Habitats and Scales of Sustainability
I have long been fascinated by planetary scale simulation projects, particularly enclosed ecosystems like the Biosphere 2. In my research on such so-called planetary analog habitats, I highlight the historically and culturally contingent choices made by stakeholders in these projects to prioritize particular aspects of "earthiness" (or "Marsiness" as the case may be) in recreating an entire planetary order in microcosm. Ultimately, through this project I'm investigating what practice planetary colonization efforts reveal about different communities' and individuals' expectations regarding Earth's future, and the shape of post-Earth humanity in Anthropocenic cosmologies.