My name is Alex Wellerstein, and I’m the author and host of this blog. I’m an historian of science who specializes in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy. Since the summer of 2011 I’ve been an Associate Historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. (Despite the position title, I’m an historian, and have never been a physicist.)
In terms of education, I received a B.A. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002. I came to the study of the history of science while working as an undergraduate in the Office for History of Science and Technology at Berkeley. I went to graduate school at the Department of History of Science at Harvard University, and (eventually) received a Ph.D. from them in the fall of 2010.
At Harvard, I began studying the history of nuclear weapons and gradually realized that the secrecy question was large, fascinating, important, and not as well studied or understood as most other aspects of the bomb. My dissertation, “Knowledge and the Bomb: Nuclear Secrecy in the United States, 1939-2008,” sought to provide both a narrative and an analytical framework for understanding the major shifts, ruptures, and periods of stability with regards to American thinking about secrecy and the atom. I am in the process of turning it into a book, under contract with the University of Chicago Press.
I’m a dedicated archive rat, who uses various home-made databases to keep track of my gigabytes upon gigabytes of digitized files retrieved from official, private, and personal archives spread out around the United States (and a few from Soviet and British archives). Despite the obvious problem of things often being classified or secret, the sheer volume of the Cold War atomic bureaucracy provides ample research fodder, even if parts of it are blacked out. Most of the things I post on the blog are things I came across in my professional research, but didn’t have a good place for within my academic writings.
While a graduate student, I was for one year the “Edward Teller Graduate Fellow in Science and Security Studies” (still my best job title) for the Office of History and Heritage Resources at the U.S. Department of Energy. Basically I helped them to develop public history web resources and shore up their internal database for their own historical holdings. I did not get (or need) a security clearance and I did not have access to classified documents. I have never sought a clearance because with access comes official responsibilities, and those can be pesky if one wants to actually publish one’s research. I prefer to be left out of some things, but with the freedom to speculate or deduce.
After graduating from Harvard, I stayed on as a Research Fellow at the Managing the Atom Project and the International Security Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, which gave me an amazing opportunity to learn that historians of science don’t think about nuclear issues at all in the same way that people interested in non-proliferation do. Learning how to speak to people interested in policy about the uses of history without doing a lot of damage to the quality of the historical narrative (i.e. making it too simple or reductionist) has been a long-term project of mine as well.
In the spring semester of 2011, I taught two courses at Harvard University in their History and Science concentration, one of which (“Science and the Cold War”) was of especial relevance to my research interests. (The other one was an introductory course in the field of science studies, which was also fun, but featured far less nuclear weapons history than the one about the Cold War.)
I’ve also been a database programmer and worked as a graphic designer and web developer more or less continuously with the above. I live in Washington, DC — according to my NUKEMAP, I live within 4 kilotons of the Capitol, and 45 kilotons from the White House. My wife also has a Ph.D. in the History of Science, and teaches at a private high school in the DC metro area.
If you want to get in touch with me for whatever reason, please feel free to e-mail me at wellerstein (at) gmail (dot) com. My office phone number (normal business hours) is (301) 209-3168. I’m best to contact by e-mail, though.
My personal (academic) webpage is at alexwellerstein.com, where you can see my papers, talks, CV, postcard collection, and other miscellaneous things.
You can get regular updates related to my posts by following my Twitter account, @wellerstein. I’m also on Facebook, and don’t mind being “friends” with people I don’t really know (though I filter things quite a bit). I’m also on Google Plus but I only really use that as a way of posting blog posts; I don’t interact much on there (who does?).
All opinions, facts, stories, nonsense, and sense expressed here are purely the points of view of the author, Alex Wellerstein, and not attributable to, nor should be considered condoned by, the organizations who have employed me in the past, nor my current employers at the American Institute of Physics.