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Classy Classes: STS 123 examines factors influencing nuclear technology

STS 123 class discussion

Credit: Nicole Chen/Stanford Daily
Jul 17 2017

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Faculty, In the News, Staff, Students

STS 123: “Making of a Nuclear World: History, Politics, and Culture” explores the creation of nuclear weapons and its consequences. The class focuses on perspectives from ethnically and geographically diverse individuals on the local, national and global scale. 

Taught by Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Associate Director and STS Honors Program Director Kyoko Sato, the course examines the experience and consequences of critical historic nuclear events, such as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

The course utilizes an approach from both science and humanities, specifically within technology, culture and politics, to confront these issues. Sato attributes her method of focusing on specific nuclear issues to her broader STS perspective. 

“The course is about why we have nuclear technology today [and] what happened in history, but it’s not just the history,” Sato said. “We also see the cultural differences, or what kind of different narratives emerged around nuclear [technology.] What I’m interested in is how nuclear [technology] has been represented and talked about.” 

Specifically, students are given the opportunity to examine the decisions, reactions and events leading up to and following the 1945 bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

“I was specifically interested in the historical aspect of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Bobby McLean ‘19, one of the students in the class.“I wanted to know if we had any prior knowledge of the impact of radiation, and there was a viable alternative to help end the war.” 

Sato also stresses the importance of reflexivity in understanding the history of nuclear technology through a modern lens. 

“[Reflexivity is one’s] capacity to step back and see where you are [and] how you look at the world,” she said. “I’m not really trying to impose a position on students, [but] I want students to develop their own analytical and critical thinking tools to think about these issues and [to develop] their ability to see through something like propaganda or one-sided views.” 

Students are able to participate in class discussions through student-led discussion questions and presentations as well as scholarly readings. 

“I think my favorite aspect is absorbing knowledge that I hadn’t previously known about the class,” said Mark Prizmic ‘18. “For example, in the reading Plutopia, I learned that nuclear reactors were disposing their waste in rivers, [and] that was causing the community illnesses and problems with birth, so it really shows how serious of an issue this is.” 

Analyzing the historical aspects of this course provides insight into the future of nuclear technology and its potential effects. 

“I [ultimately] want to have these understandings we’ve developed matter in thinking about today,” Sato said. “What happens today? The climate is very different from even five years ago.  [Bombings] could happen [again], and then we need to learn from the history to learn about what’s happening today.” 

As part of a larger project and in conjunction with  this course, Sato has curated an exhibit titled “In/Visible: Nuclear Representation in Japan from Hiroshima to Fukushima” to showcase both the widely known and the more ambiguous aspects of nuclear technology. She hopes to use the exhibit to help make sense of the peculiarities of nuclear technology from both an ethical and scientific perspective. 

According to Sato, the exhibit is titled “Invisible” as it revolves around numerous aspects of nuclear technology that “we didn’t think about or didn’t see.” 

Students from the course will have the opportunity to examine the art presented in the exhibit as part of the class. 

The exhibit will be on display at the East Asia Library until Sept. 1.