Nuclear Portugal: Physics, technology, medicine and environment (1910-2010)

Nuclear Portugal: Physics, technology, medicine and environment (1910-2010)

This project aims at exploring the manifold dimensions and ramifications of the history of nuclear research and science in Portugal, from 1910 to the present. ‘The Nuclear' has been an important theme in self-descriptions of Portugal's modernity - or, instead, the lack of it - in the last one hundred years. The inexistence in Portugal of a nuclear reactor has been taken as a mark of Portuguese failure to catch-up with ‘Progress'. For many, the national absence of a history of nuclear research has become a demonstrative example of Portugal's techno-scientific backwardness vis-à-vis other developed Western countries. This project is strongly committed to the investigation of a reverse hypothesis. That is: the idea that an understanding of the contemporary history of Portugal implies a history of nuclear science and technology. We will thus take as point of departure that atoms and social life must be approached as co-constitutive of one another. By revealing a hidden nuclear history of Portugal, we intend to reassess the social, economical and political significance of nuclear energy in the country's history, and use Portuguese involvement with nuclear sciences and technologies as a prism through which to view larger societal processes. In order to achieve this goal, the team will follow the historical connections between atoms and Portuguese society throughout a wide variety of sites, practices and events: for example, the use of radiation in the treatment of cancer in the 1920s; uranium mining in rural Portugal in the 1950s; or the anti-nuclear environmental movement in the 1970s. As such, in contrast with conventional views of ‘the nuclear', we will give innovative prominence to the study of the diffuse presence of nuclear sciences and technologies in Portuguese society, considering four main areas: physics, cancer, mining, environment, popular culture.

Important international works have already been produced on these different dimensions in relation to other national contexts (see Literature Review). However, there is not a work that brings together these distinct dimensions into a single historical narrative and analysis. It is a purpose of this project to be able to provide this innovative narrative. By taking into close account international scholarship, our purpose is to offer an original analytical contribution to the international literature on the history of science. All project topics as well as the extensive historical period covered by the project require an interdisciplinary team and the use of multiple methods and approaches. The project will thus include Historians of Science, Environmental Sociologists, Anthropologists, and Science Studies scholars. The methodologies will include the historical investigation of laboratory spaces; archival research of scientific policies; ethnography of technological infrastructures; media analysis of public controversies and oral interviews. This methodological plurality will be accompanied by a common collective commitment to the materiality of social and scientific processes. As such, ‘the atoms' to be researched and analyzed will not be approached idealistically as inhabitants of the sphere of scientific ideas; instead, they will be approached in their material mediations - through the machines, practices, and institutions that produce, sustain and circulate their historical existence.  This project will be undertaken by a highly skilled team of researchers from ICS-UL and CES-UC, thus giving expression to a joint project participation of the two Portuguese State Associated Laboratories in the social sciences. ICS and CES represent the two most productive communities of science studies scholars in the country as certified by recent publications (ArrRoq08). It is also at ICS and CES that one finds the most active researchers in following environmental controversies related with nuclear issues (Sch03; DelBas07).

The capacity of the research team to use ethnographic methodologies for approaching technoscientific objects is asserted by previous works, namely Granjo (Gr04), Praça (Pr08), Arriscado Nunes (Arr01) and Roque (Roq08). In addition, the joint presence of CIUHCT and ICS will strengthen the ties between the communities of historians of science from both institutions, which are already responsible for editing the sole international journal of history of science and technology in the country (Sar07B).

Project 

Nuclear Portugal: Physics, Technology, Medicine and Environment (1910-2010) - HC/0063/2009 - Financed by FCT

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Keywords: 

Nuclear History of Portugal; Atoms and Cancer; Uranium Mining; Nuclear Energy

This project aims at exploring the manifold dimensions and ramifications of the history of nuclear research and science in Portugal, from 1910 to the present. ‘The Nuclear' has been an important theme in self-descriptions of Portugal's modernity - or, instead, the lack of it - in the last one hundred years. The inexistence in Portugal of a nuclear reactor has been taken as a mark of Portuguese failure to catch-up with ‘Progress'. For many, the national absence of a history of nuclear research has become a demonstrative example of Portugal's techno-scientific backwardness vis-à-vis other developed Western countries. This project is strongly committed to the investigation of a reverse hypothesis. That is: the idea that an understanding of the contemporary history of Portugal implies a history of nuclear science and technology. We will thus take as point of departure that atoms and social life must be approached as co-constitutive of one another. By revealing a hidden nuclear history of Portugal, we intend to reassess the social, economical and political significance of nuclear energy in the country's history, and use Portuguese involvement with nuclear sciences and technologies as a prism through which to view larger societal processes. In order to achieve this goal, the team will follow the historical connections between atoms and Portuguese society throughout a wide variety of sites, practices and events: for example, the use of radiation in the treatment of cancer in the 1920s; uranium mining in rural Portugal in the 1950s; or the anti-nuclear environmental movement in the 1970s. As such, in contrast with conventional views of ‘the nuclear', we will give innovative prominence to the study of the diffuse presence of nuclear sciences and technologies in Portuguese society, considering four main areas: physics, cancer, mining, environment, popular culture.

Important international works have already been produced on these different dimensions in relation to other national contexts (see Literature Review). However, there is not a work that brings together these distinct dimensions into a single historical narrative and analysis. It is a purpose of this project to be able to provide this innovative narrative. By taking into close account international scholarship, our purpose is to offer an original analytical contribution to the international literature on the history of science. All project topics as well as the extensive historical period covered by the project require an interdisciplinary team and the use of multiple methods and approaches. The project will thus include Historians of Science, Environmental Sociologists, Anthropologists, and Science Studies scholars. The methodologies will include the historical investigation of laboratory spaces; archival research of scientific policies; ethnography of technological infrastructures; media analysis of public controversies and oral interviews. This methodological plurality will be accompanied by a common collective commitment to the materiality of social and scientific processes. As such, ‘the atoms' to be researched and analyzed will not be approached idealistically as inhabitants of the sphere of scientific ideas; instead, they will be approached in their material mediations - through the machines, practices, and institutions that produce, sustain and circulate their historical existence.  This project will be undertaken by a highly skilled team of researchers from ICS-UL and CES-UC, thus giving expression to a joint project participation of the two Portuguese State Associated Laboratories in the social sciences. ICS and CES represent the two most productive communities of science studies scholars in the country as certified by recent publications (ArrRoq08). It is also at ICS and CES that one finds the most active researchers in following environmental controversies related with nuclear issues (Sch03; DelBas07).

The capacity of the research team to use ethnographic methodologies for approaching technoscientific objects is asserted by previous works, namely Granjo (Gr04), Praça (Pr08), Arriscado Nunes (Arr01) and Roque (Roq08). In addition, the joint presence of CIUHCT and ICS will strengthen the ties between the communities of historians of science from both institutions, which are already responsible for editing the sole international journal of history of science and technology in the country (Sar07B).

Project 

Nuclear Portugal: Physics, Technology, Medicine and Environment (1910-2010) - HC/0063/2009 - Financed by FCT

Objectivos: 
<p>Portugal, we intend to reassess the social, economical and political significance of nuclear energy in the country's history, and use Portuguese involvement with nuclear sciences and technologies as a prism through which to view larger societal processes.</p><p>In order to achieve this goal, the team will follow the historical connections between atoms and Portuguese society throughout a wide variety of sites, practices and events: for example, the use of radiation in the treatment of cancer in the 1920s; uranium mining in rural Portugal in the 1950s; or the anti-nuclear environmental movement in the 1970s. As such, in contrast with conventional views of ‘the nuclear', we will give innovative prominence to the study of the diffuse presence of nuclear sciences and technologies in Portuguese society, considering four main areas: physics, cancer, mining, environment, popular culture.</p><p>Important international works have already been produced on these different dimensions in relation to other national contexts (see Literature Review). However, there is not a work that brings together these distinct dimensions into a single historical narrative and analysis. It is a purpose of this project to be able to provide this innovative narrative. By taking into close account international scholarship, our purpose is to offer an original analytical contribution to the international literature on the history of science.</p>
State of the art: 
Suffice it to evoke Hiroshima, Chernobyl or Cancer to confirm the relevance of 'nuclear things' for our understanding of the Twentieth Century. These three issues may structure the massive nuclear literature produced by history of science. First, the research undertaken at Los Alamos for the building of the atomic bomb has been perceived as a privileged site to explore scientific practices since World War II. Large research teams, expensive instruments, intimacy with political, military and economical powers, are all recognizable features of the Big Science phenomenon with which Physics' practices have come to been identified (GalHev92; Hod98). The historiography of Big Science opened perspectives for the writing of history of science broadly understood, namely with Peter Galison (Ga97) urging scholars to follow anthropologists and pay attention to the material culture of laboratories. Recently, John Krige (Kr06) placed nuclear issues at the center of the shaping of European science in the Cold war years under American hegemony, a major contribution for the current project purposes. Chernobyl leads us to literature connecting the history of science with environmental history. There is to be sure an impressive amount of literature dealing with nuclear issues from an environmental perspective, but an important gap, which we intend to contribute to overcome, remains between environmental history and history of science in nuclear literature. An important exception is the work of Paul Josephson (Jo02) that connects histories of technology, nature, and the state. Hevly and Findlay (HeFi98) also point to the relations this project is interested in between landscapes and nuclear facilities. Such gap doesn't exist in relation to medical research and its connections with the nuclear world. Soraya Boudia (Bou01) has explored the importance of radiotherapies for the development of Marie Curie's laboratory, and Ilana Löwy (Lo97) placed the expensive instruments delivering radium radiation in cancer networks weaving together patients, physicians, charities and politicians. The intertwined history of cancer and radioactivity remains unexplored for Portugal. This is striking considering that the physicians involved in the founding of the Portuguese Institute of Oncology (IPO) in 1923 were main actors in making laboratory medicine a crucial element of the Republican regime (1910-1926) (Am06). We expect that by following the material practices of radioactivity we will be able not only to cover an important gap in Portuguese historiography of science but also to better grasp the role of physicians and physicists in the building of the Republic (1910-1926). General historical accounts of the authoritarian New State (1926-1974) have also been oblivious to the role of scientists (Ro94). The understandable concern with the repressive character of the regime has led historians to stress the difficulties of experimental life under Salazar's rule (BrGil06). Two master theses by M. Amélia Taveira (Ta03) and M. Júlia Gaspar (Ga08) have placed the subject of nuclear research in Portugal more in tune with international history of science. These two studies are important starting points for our research, but both their short range of subjects and sources don't provide an answer about the significance of nuclear histories to the contemporary history of Portugal. We still have to make use of Gabrielle Hecht (He98) and Itty Abraham (Ab98) to perceive how nuclear issues may be taken as major components of national histories. Both authors intertwine reactors with national political and cultural debates in post war France and post colonial India. Our final aim is to produce a similar narrative for Portugal, but with the category ‘nuclear' covering a broader range than just nuclear reactors. Actually, Gabrielle Hecht (He07) has changed her focus to uranium mining as an important place in the negotiation of what counts as nuclear. Such an approach is close to our goal of revealing a nuclear Portugal by looking at reactors, as well as to mines, cancer institutes and green movements. The international scholarship has already produced contributions on all those different issues, but it has not attempted to weave together all features in one narrative. The intention here is not just to put Portuguese history of science in tune with international trends, but also to make original contributions to the international literature. The PI has already explored the role of science and technology in forging a national identity (Sar07) and has produced an account of the importance of looking at laboratory sites for anyone interested in understanding Portuguese contemporary history (Sar05). He has worked together with other team members in exploring recent configurations of Portuguese science, namely of nuclear research (SaDeBa08). The joint participation of ICS and CES will bring to the project the two most productive communities of science studies' scholars in the country as certified by recent publications (ArrRoq08). It is also at ICS and CES that one finds the most active researchers in following environmental controversies related with nuclear issues (Sch03; DelBas07). The ability of the research team to use ethnographic methodologies to approach technoscientific objects is asserted by previous works of its members, namely Granjo (Gr04), Praça (Pr08), Arriscado Nunes (Arr01) and Roque (Roq08). The joint presence of CIUHCT and ICS will strength the strong ties between the communities of historians of science of both institutions that are currently responsible for editing the sole journal of history of science in the country (Sar07B). The recognition of their research has been confirmed by publications in major international journals (LafSar04; DiCarSim01).
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Ana Isabel Simões
Tiago Santos Pereira
Maria Paula Santos Diogo
João Afonso Baptista
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/01/2010
End Date: 
31/12/2012
Duração: 
36 meses
Closed