American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



New Mexico's atomic tourism acts to render the atomic bomb simultaneously so exceptional that it is viewed as the pinnacle of Western intelligence, and yet also so un-exceptional that it is banal, as typified by kitschy atomic souvenirs. A primary way in which New Mexico's atomic tourist sites accomplish this paradoxical narrative is through gendered and racialized discourses in exhibits, gift shops, and on-site narratives. The racialized trope of the "vanishing Native" functions in these spaces to shore up the colonialist progress narrative in which white Western science and Manifest Destiny inevitably result in the creation of the "exceptional" bomb and the elimination of Native Americans. Another aspect of the exceptional bomb, the figure of "Rosie the Riveter," is called forth to celebrate nuclearism as a site where liberal feminist equality can be realized. New Mexico's atomic tourism also renders U.S. imperial violence un-exceptional and banal through the repetitive enactment of domesticity in toys, souvenirs, narratives, and exhibits. Viewing the bomb either as banal or as exceptional obscures the ways in which atomic weapons are one aspect of state sanctioned violence that is inextricably tied to settler colonialism, environmental racism, and U.S. imperialism. The exceptional/banal narrative encourages tourists to view the bomb as either in the future (exceptional progress) or as a nostalgic banal object relegated to the past, thereby erasing the present and ongoing violence of settler nuclearism. In this paper, I perform an intersectional feminist visual and textual analysis of objects, souvenirs, narratives, and exhibits in four of New Mexico's main atomic tourist sites. I argue that gendered and racialized discourses in these spaces end up constructing the paradoxical exceptional/banal atomic narrative that ultimately fails to see atomic weapons as a present and ongoing form of settler nuclear violence. By bringing settler nuclearism and atomic tourism into the same temporal frame we can begin to see the processes by which they legitimize themselves.




Nuclearism, Feminism, Settler Colonialism, Atomic tourism, New Mexico

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Brandzel, Amy

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ramirez de Arellano, Adriana

Second Committee Member

Denetdale, Jennifer Nez