Historian, writer and filmmaker Peter L. Galison is the Pellegrino University Professor of History of Science and Physics at Harvard University. He won the Max Planck Prize in 1999, was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1997 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2009. In this lecture, which anticipates both a book and a film on the subject, Galison addresses speculation as it pertains to inaccessible sites, in particular “nuclear wastelands” and “pure wilderness.” As they are usually understood, these designations are opposites. Taking stock of plans to handle lands that will remain saturated with radio-nuclides for tens of thousands of years, Galison argues that the categories of wastelands and wilderness are far from dichotomous; that their relation is far more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity and corruption. Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity – for reasons of sanctification or despoilment – alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as not for us humans.
Introduced by John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks.