In early 1943, the U.S. governments Manhattan Project built a secret laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, for a single military purpose—to develop the world's first atomic weapons. Today, the remaining places and spaces of the bomb at Los Alamos are being preserved for future generations through their inclusion in the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a unique partnership between the Department of Energy, which will continue to own and manage its wartime properties located 'behind the fence,' and the Department of Interior's National Park Service, which will take the lead on interpreting the complex history and continuing legacy of nuclear weapons. This study, a blend of social, architectural, and scientific history, examines the historical contexts of the remaining World War II buildings and structures at Los Alamos National Laboratory that are listed in the park legislation. Arguing that the decision to use atomic weapons against the people of Japan is the polarizing master narrative of the Manhattan Project, this dissertation focuses instead on the narratives of people, places, and institutions that have been overshadowed by controversy. Using primary, secondary, and oral history sources, along with historical photographs and architectural drawings, this research project explores the Manhattan Project through the lens of place. This study examines the voices of women and the military, documents lost technologies and places, and discovers connections between Los Alamos and other institutions that supported the development and deployment of the first atomic bombs, including the underappreciated contributions of the Navy and the University of New Mexico, which have been obscured by past government secrecy practices. As national sites of memory—Pierre Nora's lieux de mémoire—the meaning of these atomic places and landscapes will change through time, ever responding to the dynamics of collective memory and experience. The goal of this study is to look beyond the controversy of atomic weapons to reveal hidden narratives and historical associations that will provide the intellectual stage for continued public dialogue about the memory and meaning of the development and use of nuclear weapons.
Level of Degree
First Committee Member (Chair)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy
McGehee, Ellen D.. "Commemorating Controversy: Place-making at the Birthplace of the Bomb." (2016). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/hist_etds/53