Disarming Doomsday is the title of a full-length volume written by Manchester-based academic Dr Becky Alexis-Martin, published on Pluto Press and launched on the 23rd May at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Manchester.

Disarming Doomsday This 192-page in-depth work explores the secret history of nuclear weapons, taking a geographical approach by considering the places they build and tear apart, from Los Alamos to Hiroshima. Many people, for example, may recognise the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima as a tragic historical event – the bomb detonated by The United States on the 6 August 1945, in the final stages of World War II. However, what Disarming Doomsday further considers is the ongoing effect upon human life and geographies – including how nuclear factors cause changes not just to the human physicality, but family and community structures. Understanding this, as well as developing ways to progress towards peace, is crucial.

 The launch featured readings and reflection from Becky, as well as the opportunity for book signings. Lecturer in Cultural and Political Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Becky Alexis-Martin often focuses on nuclear culture and the social consequence of nuclear weapons– from how nuclear threat affects communities to how attack and impact has caused complex long-term harm. These were topics she also explored in a paper titled ‘Deus Ex Atomica: Death, memorialisation and nuclear warfare’ as part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Death and The Sacred Symposium in March 2019 (and her HAUNT Manchester reflection on the experience can be read here).

Having travelled to a number of nuclear sites to inform her work, Becky’s work often looks more closely at Irradiated Places; ‘a multitude of landscapes, zones, bodies and communities that are bound together by past, present or future nuclear technologies’ – with previous topics of research including the experiences of female radiation emergency survivors and Nuclear families. She has also contributed a range of journalism on the urgency of the subject to publications such as The Guardian and The Conversation.

Disarming Doomsday explores a range of these themes and their ongoing influence on the global stage, including the legacy of nuclear imperialism and the change to social structures this has caused. Yet the book is also crucially forward-facing – a study with a message of hope – as considers how geotechnology continues to shape nuclear war, and can even help to prevent it. It seems apt then, that Becky will also be speaking at Bradford Peace Museum on 2nd July. HAUNT Manchester spoke to her to find out more about the book…

Hello Becky. Congratulations on the book! What was the inspiration behind ‘Disarming Doomsday’, how long have you been working on it – and why that title in particular?

“I wrote my book in six months of early mornings - but it's based on my research and fieldwork over the last three years, that purgatorial time between writing up a PhD and getting a lectureship. It's called Disarming Doomsday, because I enjoy a good pun - but also because it gives insights into secretive and heavily armoured places of nuclear warfare, thus "disarming" them.”

Disarming Doomsday Book Launch

The book is described as exploring ‘the secret history of nuclear weapons’. How does ‘Disarming Doomsday’ provide a differing approach to the topic of Nuclear Geography compared to existing books in the field?

“It's the first book that considers the important role of space and place, geo-technologies and geohumanities, when we consider the cultural and social consequences of nuclear weapons. I coined the term "nuclear geography" for Royal Geographical Society sessions in 2016, because there was no overarching edict to describe what I wanted to research.”

Can you give an example of a piece of research as part of the book that really surprised you?

 “I'm always surprised. Usually by the kindness of the communities that I have worked with.”

By Emily Oldfield