All posts by Amanda Perry

4/25 A Special WHS: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable with Amitav Ghosh

Are we deranged? Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? Ghoshexamines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

The extreme nature of today’s climate events makes them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining.  This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres.  In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictions and counterintuitive elements.

Amitav Ghosh is an acclaimed author whose novels include the Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire), The Glass Palace, and The Shadow LinesThe Great Derangement is his first major work of nonfiction since In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

4/24: General George C. Marshall and the Atomic Bomb with Frank Settle

General George C. Marshall’s relationship with the atomic bomb was unique – he was the only senior-level official who participated in all of the major decisions involving nuclear weapons from 1942 to 1952. Author Frank Settle provides the first full-length narrative of General George C. Marshall’s crucial role in the decade-long development of the first atomic bombs.  He explores Marshall’s deep involvement with nuclear weapons as Army chief of staff, secretary of state, and secretary of defense.

Frank Settle, professor emeritus of chemistry at Washington and Lee University, also taught at Virginia Military Institute from 1964 to 1992.  Before coming to Washington and Lee in 1998, he was a visiting professor at the US Air Force Academy, a consultant to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a program officer at the National Science Foundation.  Dr. Settle developed and taught interdisciplinary courses on nuclear history, weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear power.  He currently directs the ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues (http://alsos.wlu.edu).

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

4/17: The Profit of the Earth: The Global Seeds of American Agriculture with Courtney Fullilove

While the contemporary United States is a patchwork of large-scale monocultures, this talk will explore unrealized alternatives, from a Midwestern prairie harvested for production of botanic medicines to an American South populated by smallholders cultivating tea. Understanding why these futures were unrealized, and at what cost, conjures the histories of diverse people, plants, and knowledge on the move. Weaving together the lives of German and Russian immigrant farmers, prairie plant collectors, and Ohio pharmacists, Fullilove recasts the amber waves of grain immortalized in “America the Beautiful” not as an inherited Eden, but rather a novel landscape constructed by transplanted seeds and the skilled labor of willing and unwilling immigrants.

Courtney Fullilove is Assistant Professor of History, Environmental Studies, and Science in Society at Wesleyan University, where she teaches US history of science and technology in global perspective.  She is author of The Profit of the Earth: The Global Seeds of American Agriculture (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.