“Narratives of Peace and Progress: Atomic Museums in Japan and New Mexico” explores the way distinct cultures lay claim to vastly different remembrances of nuclear history. In his 1991 exhibit catalogue, “New Mexico’s Nuclear Enchantment,” Japanese-American artist Patrick Nagatani produced a photographic collage titled “Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Lab” that illustrates the complexities of cultural memory. The collage’s dominant image is a photograph of a museum exhibit that emphasizes the principles of fission, fusion, and radiation. Superimposed over the corner of this photograph, are the images of several pale, ghost-like Japanese children and a series of glass jars marked with Japanese characters. The jars reference sealed flasks of bodily remains on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan, used to both shock viewers and document the dead. Nagatani’s collage juxtaposes two very different forms of national and cultural remembering. By overlaying the image of the ghostly children and glass jars onto exhibit panels charting scientific data, the narrative of human loss is placed in contrast to that of technological achievement. In this paper, I consider how varying forms of public remembrance of the atomic bomb, from science museums to peace memorials, can reinforce notions of progress, loss, and national identity. Specifically, site analyses of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum in New Mexico show how sites of memory can both inspire group healing and expose lasting cultural divides and struggles with past trauma.
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