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Pacific Circle Online Lecture, January 20th 2022

Dear Circle Readers,

We are pleased to announce the first of an irregular series of online events of the Pacific Circle. The new council have agreed to introduce this innovation to make best use of new digital means of communication. We will aim to highlight the work of emerging scholars in the fields represented by the Circle.

Please click here to view the announcement (PDF), or see below for details.

Please click here to register in advance (link will open in a new tab). The lecture will be held via Zoom.


Nuclear Weapons and the Unsettling of Sovereignty in the Marshall Islands, 1944-1963

MX Mitchell (University of Toronto)

Abstract: Between 1946 and 1958, the Marshall Islands became a critical center of the United States’ nuclear weapons program. The United States detonated its largest and most powerful nuclear bombs in Indigenous lands and waters, offshoring the mass-scale violence and risk of its signal weapons system. The Marshall Islands, however, were not a part of US territory. Working through the United Nations, US diplomats engineered a sui generis international status—strategic trusteeship—into which it placed Pacific islands seized from Japan during World War II. The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands became a novel, anomalous legal zone of US empire uniquely tied to both nuclear weapons and international law and institutions. This paper explores how this new, yet indeterminate status redefined relationships between sovereignty, territory, and jurisdiction before the worldwide cessation of US atmospheric nuclear blasting in 1963. Drawing on archival research in activists’ records, court files, United Nations records, Trust Territory records, and US government agency collections, the paper traces Islanders’ legal actions across three different forums. It examines how Islanders’ claims over damage to their bodies, ancestral atolls, and ways of life exposed the emerging contours of strategic trusteeship and the boundaries of their belonging in national and international legal and political systems.

Mary X. Mitchell is assistant professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. Prior to joining the University of Toronto, Mitchell was a faculty fellow at Princeton University, an assistant professor at Purdue University, and a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. She practiced law and clerked for Judge Anthony J. Scirica of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before earning her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. Mitchell’s work focuses on the intersections between law, knowledges, and technology.