Where My Summer Research Took Me…
My summer began in Victoria, British Columbia, at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, where I participated in a week-long “Fundamentals of Digitization” workshop. I learned new skills and software associated with digitizing sound, video, and images, as well as some basic coding used to build websites. Currently, I am working on curating a digital archive on nuclear power and memory, one that would integrate various media artifacts that I have collected surrounding Chernobyl and other nuclear catastrophes. This archive will eventually include a textual analysis project of the coverage of Chernobyl in newspapers that will consist of visual representations of how information about the disaster was disseminated to the public. Additionally, I have started to “map” Chernobyl memory through its monuments and memorials across the world using GIS software. In this regard, the technologies and skill sets acquired through my work in the digital humanities has proven invaluable to my research, and this digital archive has become a cornerstone of my dissertation.
After the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, I spent several weeks in Ukraine, where I studied Ukrainian in the Carpathian Mountains through the Ukrainian Catholic University. I was placed in a challenging and rewarding advanced class. We spent four hours a day studying the language and went on cultural excursions in the afternoon. I toured the tunnels of WWII bunkers, went wine tasting, and hiked some of the most beautiful mountains. Once the program ended, feeling confident in my Ukrainian language skills, I spent some time in Ukraine on my own working on my dissertation. I have several audio interviews with Chernobyl liquidators that I am transcribing, as well as photographs of the exclusion zone that I am organizing as part of my archive project. My motivation comes from the need to make the human and environmental consequences of nuclear power and the supporting power structures visible, because the effects of radiation are often invisible, which only makes it easier to forget.
The final part of my research took me across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan. Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Museum are models for how to commemorate nuclear disasters. Although my research and dissertation focus heavily on Chernobyl, I have expanded its scope to include all nuclear power incidents, as they are not mutually exclusive. The same impulses and power structures that created the first nuclear bomb also produced the first nuclear power plants, even if we do not always make that connection. My visit to Hiroshima only underscores this fundamental disconnect - that we treat nuclear weapons and nuclear energy very differently, even though they are both born of the same destructive power and are both capable of violence on bodies and spaces. This is why I am compelled to collect photographs, interview witnesses, and document these nuclear memories—because we try to compartmentalize and contain nuclear catastrophes even as any spatial or temporal containment is fundamentally impossible.