University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Twentieth Century Think Tank > The thaw in the Pole: Cold War science and showcasing at the Siberian science-city and Antarctic expeditions (1955–1964)

The thaw in the Pole: Cold War science and showcasing at the Siberian science-city and Antarctic expeditions (1955–1964)

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This paper focuses on the interdependencies in the process of making international science and producing knowledge about extreme environments by establishing connections and comparisons between two historical episodes: the creation of the Siberian science-city and the early Soviet Antarctic expeditions. It reveals how the Cold War framework highlighted a key ambiguity of Soviet science: producing universal knowledge in socialist way. Thanks to recent works on Cold War sciences, we now know that circulating people, ideas and artefacts operationalized, breached, and occasionally transcended geopolitical divisions. Scholars working on polar regions also demonstrate how these regions are constructed both as strategic locations and rhetorical forms of domination over nature. This paper adds another dimension to a discussion of such entanglements among several historical sub-disciplines – Big Science as spectacle. It argues that showcasing was a constitutive element, not an accidental byproduct, of Khrushchev-era massive investment into ostensibly civilian scientific infrastructures across Siberia and Antarctica. In 1957, the year of Sputnik, the Soviet press announced the creation of the first Siberian science-city, Akademgorodok, and the images of ‘Ob’, the flagman of the Soviet expedition sailing south for the third time, proliferated. The aim here is not only to correct misleading historiographic claims conflating remoteness with ‘freedom’ and de-Stalinization with de-Sovietization, but to explain the very size of historical record associated with these projects. Situated across the globe, Siberian science-cities and Antarctic bases were presented in an unexpectedly similar way, as model scientific communities. In the process, both regions and their natural environments became not only the elements of scientific representations as circulating ‘mobiles’, but the stages for enacting the competing versions of modernity. Both locales enticed numerous visitors to record and share their experiences. Yet such visitors often passed over a key aspect of these sites – the co-dependency between the openness of international science and the secrecy regimes of national defence. Akademgorodok had many ties to ‘plutopias’, the closed cities of the Soviet nuclear programme, and Antarctica’s international ‘science and peace’ to the Arctic’s Cold War frontier.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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