My name is Alex Wellerstein, and I’m the author and host of this blog. I’m a historian of science who specializes in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy. I am an assistant professor of Science and Technology Studies (STS) in the College of Arts and Letters at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
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.) In the spring of 2014, I taught “Science and the Cold War” again at Georgetown University. From 2011 until the summer of 2014 I was an Associate Historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. I started my job at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the fall of 2014. At Stevens I teach courses on “The Nuclear Age,” on the history of heredity, on a humanistic approach to the visualization of data, and other topics.
I am on the Advisory Committee of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, and a member of the National Advisory Board of the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues. I am also an active member of the History of Science Society, and have occasionally consulted for them on digital questions. My work has been featured on NPR, The Daily Show, and even Fox News, among other places. I started this blog in November 2011 as a means of finding broader audiences, finding my own voice as a writer, and clarifying my own thoughts on a lot of things. It has also been a stimulating platform for the creation of new digital tools and visualizations related to nuclear topics.
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 Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the river from mid-town Manhattan. According to my NUKEMAP, I live within the 5 psi pressure ring of a 100 kiloton airburst centered on the Empire State Building. My wife also has a Ph.D. in the History of Science, and teaches at a very fancy private high school in New York City. We have a little dog named Lyndon, who is intelligent and a little neurotic.
If you want to get in touch with me for whatever reason, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am bad at answering phones and returning calls, so you should really just e-mail. (I have become bad at e-mail, too, so if you don’t get a response after a week or two, please feel free to “nudge” me to see if I missed the first one. Sorry.)
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, or by using the “e-mail subscription” service linked to on the task bar (I do not use this for spam of any sort — it is run by WordPress.com and works automatically). 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?).
If you want to send me something via snail mail, my work address is:
Stevens Institute of Technology
1 Castle Point on Hudson
College of Arts and Letters, P-308
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5991
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, etc.