16/05/2017 Emily Gibbs (University of Liverpool)

Emily Gibbs poster

Nuclear Anxiety in British Life, 1952-1989: Some Anxieties about Nuclear Anxiety

‘Nuclear Anxiety’ has been a problematic term in recent historiography, receiving much academic thought but little theoretical or methodological structure has been generated for its practice.As nuclear historians move away from ‘linear’ political, military and scientific narratives and towards an understanding of the sociological, cultural, psychological and ontological resonance of nuclear weapons, the concept of ‘nuclear anxiety’ has become popular and subsequently disputed, interpreted, defined (and re-defined) a multitudinous amount. Despite this, there is a lack of research bringing together and assessing current debates surrounding the terminology. Subsequently, a universal definition of ‘nuclear anxiety’ is virtually non-existent as the term has come to cover all manner of nuclear ‘terror’, ‘fear’, ‘stress’, and ‘worries’ under its multifaceted umbrella.

This paper intends to explore the methodologies and theories surrounding understanding ‘nuclear anxiety’ in historiography, drawing on my ongoing doctoral research to address the possibilities and pitfalls of defining ‘nuclear anxiety’ . How can we understand ‘nuclear anxiety’ objectively when we still live in the nuclear age? How is ‘nuclear anxiety’ represented and understood by different historians? What methodological problems do we face when using ‘anxiety’ as a historical focus? How can we define and pinpoint what exactly ‘nuclear anxiety’ means and use it practically to better understand our nuclear pasts, present and future?



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