© Center for PostNatural History, 2011

The following extract has been translated into a language formerly known as "English" as it was in 2015:

The above is a representation of what used to be termed an "image" from 2012. Whilst this media has long since become obsolete, it seems fitting to use the media prevalent at the time to convey closely what was experienced as it was then. The image is of what has been termed an "Atomic Age Rodent" (Center for PostNatural History, 2013), the eponymous subject of an exhibition and later a book produced on-site at the Center for PostNatural History (CPNH) in 2013 in Pittsburgh PA which was founded in the early 21st Century.

Rodents have somewhat of a curious history in relation to science in the 20th Century. With a genetic makeup similar to humans, mice in particular became a logical choice for study with clear, direct links of possible human effects. Used in laboratories, carefully and meticulously studied, they represented a symbol of scientific progress. Control, knowledge, care and ethics; used to better our species' understanding of the world around us and how we could better suit it, or perhaps even influence it to suit us. In their use in laboratories, they acted as markers for important exploratory considerations such as disease and the possible effects of experimental substances.

Alongside this more transparent, open and controlled setting was a side, particularly during the post-WWII and Cold War years, of becoming embroiled in military strategies aimed at political control. Here, they became entangled with military strategy, first being bystanders of interventions and later the subject of nuclear test experiments. Military agreements with research and academic institutions, particularly the Smithsonian Institution (MacLeod, 2001), created a murky period of exchange which developed the rodent from bystander to participant in research, for military purposes. The bodies of the Atomic Age Rodents carry the history of the US atomic testing program embedded within them as relics of a past in which much of the nation had forgotten, or perhaps been unaware, they were a part of.

The particular rodent seen here was a female collected on the 2nd October 1945 from Nagasaki. Her collector, Joe O. Leslie, was part of an epidemic control team tasked with monitoring disease transmission between people and rodents in the designated hospital area of Nagasaki. Her role is likely to have been part of a disease monitoring effort by the US, following the atomic blast two months earlier. Her inclusion in the Smithsonian archives signaled the value of such specimens to American scientists of the time who had previously limited the inclusion of specimens from Japan into the Smithsonian archives, which conjecture suggests is likely to have been due to American efforts to control and even prevent any documentation of the atomic impacts (CPNH, 2013).

Atomic Age Rodents, then, were not just participants, but were sources of valuable information which national policy and military strategy would be based on. Their bodies—fragile though they are—tell their story hidden in plain sight, unanticipated traces of an unfolding political and ecological crisis throughout the mid to late 20th Century. In science’s eagerness to tell tales of their experiments, history forgot the Atomic Age Rodent in favor of the laboratory rodent, consigning them to the drawers of the archives at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. alongside 40,000 others with a tag delicately tied to their feet. There they sat in darkness for 65 years. That is, until Richard Pell, the Founder of the CPNH, discovered them during a Fellowship with the Smithsonian in 2010, and pieced together their story from the fragmented histories of the other occupants of their archive. They had, however, witnessed the dawning of the age of the Anthropocene and were active participants as well as bystanders, in the ushering in of this age through the foothold created from information gathered from them.

As history progressed, the developments that were remembered were those from the laboratory rodent rather than the Atomic Age Rodent. Research continued with the genuine belief of containment and control unaware of the misplacement of these feelings, as was seen in the ensuing centuries and millennia. Rodents thus joined a significant and growing list of model organisms ranging in size and genetic complexity that humankind sought to study, experiment on, manipulate and contribute their findings from to the growing body of science available at the time. The benefit of hindsight from 5000AD shows such mistaken beliefs of control and containment however, as is outlined in the talk itself, gave rise to something else altogether. 


The image, copyright Center for PostNatural History (2011), was included in the in the Center for PostNatural History (2013) publication and has had permission for use granted by the Center’s Founder and Curator of PostNatural Organisms, Richard Pell.


MacLeod R (2001) “Strictly for the Birds”: Science, the Military and the Smithsonian’s Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, 1963–1970. Journal of the History of Biology 34(2): 315-352.
CPNH, Center for PostNatural History (2013) Atomic Age Rodents: Specimens of Interest in the Collection of the National Museum of Natural History – Volume One. Pittsburgh: Center for PostNatural History.
CPNH, Center for PostNatural History (2015) About. Available at: Accessed 29/06/2015.