A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado

Line drawing map of US nuclear missile fields
Minuteman Nuclear Missile Fields, National Park Service map

A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado is a digital public humanities project that documents and interprets nuclear geographies and legacies of the Cold War. The Atlas draws together background information, archival materials, accessible scholarly essays, artist interventions, and narratives of individuals and communities on the front lines of the domestic Cold War. Grounded in the specific location of Colorado and its nuclear materials and ecologies, the Atlas allows users to explore the US nuclear complex and its many scales of operation, relational geographies, and troubling future. It serves as a resource and as an interactive and inclusive digital platform where community members, activists, artists, veterans, workers, and policymakers can shape Cold War legacies through active interpretation. The Atlas aspires to be a civic infrastructure for citizen involvement in knowledge-making and policy.

The stakes in assembling, presenting, and interpreting the ongoing legacies of the American nuclear complex have never been higher. Amidst the fraying of international agreements and multibillion-dollar investments in new weapons, the world is poised on the brink of a new arms race. During the Cold War, hundreds of communities across the United States and the world were involved in (or subjected to) some aspect of nuclear weapons production, whether mining and enrichment, weapons production, testing, and deployment, or decommissioning and remediation. These activities have deeply marked human lives and ecologies in these places, yet there is little public awareness to inform citizen and policy action around a revived nuclear weapons program or in response to the complex multi-sited Cold War hazards that remain..

Powered by the Scalar publishing platform, the Atlas structures information according to the nuclear fuel cycle, from extraction, milling, and processing, to the assembly and deployment of weapons, and finally, to the storage and monitoring of waste. It challenges, however, conventional models of this process by weaving in its “shadow side:” environmental contamination, workplace exposures, boom and bust economies, geopolitical instability. Navigable both by browsing thematic paths and searching by keyword, the Atlas enables users to draw connections across different parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, build multi-sited understandings of nuclear issues, and generate new scalar relationships—between the local and the planetary, between policy and the personal. It presents cartographic, textual and image-based information on nuclear processes, and invites different knowledges and forms of meaning- making (geospatial, historical, oral-historical first person, etc.). The Atlas endeavors to be a living document that infuses discussion about nuclear policy and memory with humanistic forms of inquiry and public engagement.

The project uses the Scalar publishing platform created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture based at USC, with a custom interface design by Byse Studio. It is also supported organizationally by NuLab: The Center for Maps, Texts, and Networks at Northeastern University.


Sarah Kanouse and Shiloh Krupar, A People’s Atlas of the Nuclear United States, work in progress.