Poison in the Garden of England: Pesticides, Pollution, and the Modern State in the 1960s

Presented by John Clark, University of St Andrews, CHR Senior Faculty Fellow at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on November 14, 2014.

In 1963, a local pollution event in southeast England attracted national and international attention.  Scientific experts, media commentators, local residents, industry spokesmen, and multiple government ministries and organizations sought to explain and contain this toxic pesticide release in Smarden, Kent. At one level, therefore, this incident provides an insightful micro-study of the intermeshing of land, built environment, organisms/people, state and government. Falling directly in the wake of the UK publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the incident also provides an opportunity to assess increasingly visible tensions between science and government (or governmentality) within a capitalist economy. It, thereby, speaks to broader issues about science, technology, and government within the rubric of the modern state. The ‘Smarden Affair’ affords insight into the biopolitics of the transition from conservation to ecology.

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.