From Wilderness to the Toxic Environment: Health in American Environmental Politics, 1945-Present

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From Wilderness to the Toxic Environment: Health in American Environmental Politics, 1945-Present

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Title: From Wilderness to the Toxic Environment: Health in American Environmental Politics, 1945-Present
Author: Thomson, Jennifer Christine
Citation: Thomson, Jennifer Christine. 2013. From Wilderness to the Toxic Environment: Health in American Environmental Politics, 1945-Present. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation joins the history of science and medicine with environmental history to explore the language of health in environmental politics. Today, in government policy briefs and mission statements of environmental non-profits, newspaper editorials and activist journals, claims about the health of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants abound. Yet despite this rhetorical ubiquity, modern environmental politics are ideologically and organizationally fractured along the themes of whose health is at stake and how that health should be protected. This dissertation traces how these competing conceptions of health came to structure the landscape of American environmental politics. Beginning in the early 1950s, an expanding network of environmental activists began to think in terms of protecting the health of the planet and its inhabitants from the unprecedented hazards of nuclear energy and chemical proliferation. They did this by appropriating models and metaphors of health developed by postwar ecologists, philosophers, epidemiologists and nuclear physicians. Through this process of appropriation, scientists and philosophers were likewise drawn into environmental activism. Through five case studies, this dissertation traces the collaborations between scientists, environmental activists, philosophers, and medical doctors which enabled a broad range of articulations of health: the health of the wild, the health of the environment, the health of the planet, and the health of humans within the environment. Each case study attends to the intersection of political thought and practice, and explores how science and environmental activism were in constant dialogue in the postwar period. Drawing on archival materials and extensive oral history interviews, this dissertation demonstrates the centrality of health to American environmental politics from the end of World War Two until the present day.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11125030
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