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July 16, 2018

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History and Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS)

I worked at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) for two years as a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow. My most recent papers: “‘Under Fathoms of Saltwater’: Canada’s Ammunition Dumping Program, 1944-1947” in LCMSDS’ Canadian Military History journal and “Something Fishy? Underwater Munitions and Unexplained Die Offs in Marine Environments” in the International Journal of Maritime History explore the environmental history of disarmament and the ocean dumping of ammunition, explosives, and chemical weapons.

Between 1918 and 1972, Canada, Britain, and the United States dumped hundreds of millions of tons of unneeded munitions into the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. Consequently, from the Baltic Sea to the Great Lakes, underwater munitions now threaten the food chain, marine life, human health, and the off-shore economy with toxic chemicals, carcinogens, and spontaneous explosions.

Like most people I had no idea that surplus conventional and chemical weapons were “drowned at sea” after the World Wars and throughout the Cold War. I discovered this unsettling history while writing my doctoral dissertation at the University of Western Ontario. My doctoral work examined how the Canadian state disposed of surplus munitions and supplies to support postwar reconstruction and rehabilitation from 1943 to 1948. The dissertation focused on how Canadians reduced, reused, and recycled military surpluses to improve their postwar lives, but the “discovery” of an extensive and worldwide dumping program spanning multiple decades and countries took my research portfolio in a new direction.

Since 2016 I have been researching the transnational and environmental history of Allied dumping programs after the World Wars and investigating the impact on marine ecosystems, human security, and international relations. With Laurier’s support this work has led to several interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities, which included collaborating with world renowned scientists through the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions, attending a NATO Science for Peace and Security workshop on underwater munitions, and a presentation at the 21st Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague, Netherlands.

My interest in the history of munitions disposal stems from a larger curiosity about the relationship between disposability, material culture, and the environment. Charting the life-histories of objects and exploring the malleability of their value, utility, form, and legacy is a worthwhile pursuit that offers great insight into the past and the present. I believe it is important for people to consider the material world surrounding their everyday lives and question the value regimes defining utility and thrift. Today, in a world dominated by planned obsolescence and wastefulness, it is important to know how past civilizations disposed of unwanted items so we can better understand the legacies of war and peace, contextualize the origins of today’s environmental crises, and educate future generations of environmentally conscious citizens.

If you want to learn more about my research you can listen to “The War Junk Historian” episode of the LCMSDS’s podcast series On War & Society.

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