Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

Sub-Department

College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Thomas Lekan

Abstract

This paper examines the rhetorical and visual strategies used in marketing atomic agriculture to the American public from the 1940s to the 1960s. The term “atomic agriculture” refers to various agricultural research programs that used radioactive materials, particularly radioisotope tracing and mutation breeding. In print and on screen, atomic boosters from government and industry offered the promise of a better world made possible by applying atomic energy to agriculture. I argue that the proponents of atomic agriculture combined futurism and nostalgia to create a techno-pastoral vision. They hearkened back to the nineteenth century while simultaneously imagining a bright postwar future. Moreover, they drew upon longstanding literary and visual devices, from anthropomorphism to Edenic restoration narratives. At times, however, their optimism about atomic cultivation vied with fears about radioactive contamination of the food supply. This darker counter-narrative was not incidental either. As with other images of the so-called peaceful atom, promoters were addressing public anxiety and ambivalence about its uses. Admittedly, research programs did produce substantial results, including insights on photosynthesis and new crop varieties. Yet, the only atomic blooms in deserts came from mushroom clouds, and rather than creating fertile farmland, industrial giants contaminated arable land with radiation. The promise of atomic agriculture was one of radioactive redemption, but it advertised a utopian future that never arrived.

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