Stanford scholar explores humans’ complicated history with Earth’s mineral riches in new book

News article about Prof. Gabrielle Hecht

Gabrielle Hecht sees the world differently from most of us.


The Stanton Foundation Professor in Nuclear Security, she reviewed the standard story of nuclear weapons – that they divide the world into haves and have-nots, countries with and without the bomb – and rejected the dichotomy.

In her award-winning book Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade, Hecht expanded the definition of nuclear places to include both the most powerful countries on Earth – those with nuclear warheads – and the least powerful – those where people mine the uranium that make nuclear warheads possible. Hecht peered into the Earth to understand mining and came away with a view of the planet in its entirety. We are, she realized, turning our world inside out.

“Mining conglomerates descend kilometers underground to extract metals that power electronics, making mountains of unwanted rocks,” said Hecht, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, at a recent talk at University College London. “Dredgers scoop sand from seabeds to terraform military bases and luxury islands. Offshore oil erupts, leaks, flows, combusts. All that was buried melts into air, seeps into waterways, settles on soils and penetrates bodies.”

That innovative approach has resulted in Hecht being awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship to write a new book, Inside-Out Earth: Residual Governance Under Extreme Condition.

Inside-out Earth

The book will draw in part from a course Hecht teaches about the colonial dimensions of nuclear weapons and shows how close we live to events that only seem long ago and far away. The course, Racial Justice in the Nuclear Age, takes students to San Francisco to explore a neighborhood on the Bay.