Call for contributions to the edited volume: Science Diplomacy on Display: Mobile Atomic Exhibitions in the Cold War

Deadline for abstract submission: December 14, 2020.

Maria Rentetzi (TU Berlin) and Donatella Germanese (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

This collective volume moves beyond the bipolar Cold War history that portrays nuclear propagandist exhibitions as one-way communication for promoting the advantages and virtues of the two major and conflicting political powers. Instead, Science Diplomacy on Display follows mobile atomic exhibitions as they move across national borders and around the world functioning as spaces for diplomatic encounters that move within political and scientific networks of exchange and circulation. This volume seeks to trace the multiple and often contradictory meanings that mobile exhibitions took on for various actors. For the countries or even international organizations that designed and circulated atomic mobile exhibitions during the Cold War, these became a way to educate other nations in the peaceful uses of the atom, promote an optimistic representation of nuclear energy, and standardize its use. For the nations that hosted them, their function depended on the local political, economic and social environment; most often they inspired local actors to take their own initiatives and circulate their home-made atomic exhibitions within national borders. An enormous endeavor in terms of their economics, moving logistics, local setting up and running, mobile atomic exhibitions allow us to unpack diplomatic and political tensions on a global level and explore the aesthetics of atomic powers.

Historians of science have already recognized the power of exhibitions to engage the public in the production of knowledge (i.e. Kohlstedt 2010; Rader and Cain, 2014). Exhibitions, however, have the potential to do much more. They make political statements; they become sites for the visualization of different social futures (Molella and Knowles, 2019); they represent fertile spaces for diplomatic negotiations. Despite the vital role of exhibitions in the production of knowledge and the formation of political worldviews, there is hardly any work on the historical role of atomic exhibitions in shaping nuclear science and politics, their function as assets in diplomatic negotiations, or the way they “inscribed” gender stereotypes about nuclear science on the displays.

Science Diplomacy on Display aims to highlight the decisive role of atomic exhibitions in the postwar period. It pays special attention to international organizations and their attempts to spread images of a common atomic future worldwide and in so doing to shape local scientific cultures. Our authors combine an interest in global and transnational histories of atomic mobile exhibitions with their epistemic and political cultures. As we acknowledge the epistemic value of images and objects, we discuss how atomic exhibitions such as those designed by the UN and its related organizations or any national attempts to exhibit the atom, defined nuclear futures.

Based on the abstracts that we have accepted so far, the volume’s chapters describe how countries such as Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany (East and West), Greece, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan dealt with the atomic exhibitions and laboratories they received from the US, the Soviet Union or the IAEA. Some of the essays show that the competition in nuclear technology between the Soviet Union and the US took place in Europe and Latin America by means of traveling exhibitions. Yet, competition arose as well between hosting partners (e.g. France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Mexico) and their givers (USA, USSR), as the “minor” countries tried to leave their imprints on the exhibits and the future national nuclear programs.
Some chapters analyze the cultural impact of the atomic exhibitions through images and objects, while other essays focus on the educational programs in nuclear technology and medicine that were carried out at local universities or hospitals.

As we would like to expand further the range of our investigations, we are asking scholars working in the field of atomic exhibitions to contribute with essays covering additional countries and especially China, Russia and African countries. We expect essays of 8000 words the most including footnotes.
This book project is part of the HRP-IAEA project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Consolidator Grant agreement No770548) led by Prof. Maria Rentetzi at the Technical University Berlin.

Time schedule/deadlines
Deadline for abstracts: December 14, 2020.
Expected first drafts: May 17, 2021.
Revisions by October 31, 2021.
Final submissions by December 1, 2021.


Kohlstedt, Sally. 2011. “Place and Museum Space: The Smithsonian Institution and the America West, 1850-1900” in Livingstone, David and Charles Withers (eds) Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science, University of Chicago Press, 399-437.

Mollela, Arthur P and Knowles, Scott Gabriel. 2019. World’s Fairs in the Cold War: Science, Technology, and the Culture of Progress, University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rader, Karen and Cain, Victoria. 2014. Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science and Natural History. The University of Chicago Press.