This History Department is proud to announce that Dr. Asif Siddiqi was named a 2015 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. This honor, one of the highest national awards for scholars, artists, and scientists in the United States, is also one of the most competitive. This year, Dr. Siddiqi was selected for the honor along with 174 other nominees. The announcement of the Fellowship was made on April 9, 2015 with a full-page announcement in the New York Times. For much more on Dr. Siddiqi’s research, read on.
Dr. Siddiqi was awarded the fellowship under the broad “Humanities” category. His proposed project, entitled “Departure Gates: Histories of Spaceflight on Earth,” is a cultural investigation of the more than two dozen places on Earth where humans created communities to launch objects off the planet. He hopes to produce a book, an online archive, and a museum exhibit based on the research. His goal is to produce a kind of “global history” of the large footprint of late 20th century science framed around all of these launch sites, many of which have now been abandoned. Several of these places had local populations, communities, and cultures that were often displaced or transformed by the activities associated with the space program. Dr. Siddiqi is interested in the material, social, and cultural interactions of global scientific elites who were enacting what they believed was a universalist vision of the modern world that was often at odds with local understandings of Western knowledge as an instrument to reproduce unequal social orders rooted in the colonial past.
Dr. Siddiqi’s research will focus on five such locales. They include the French launch site at Hammaguir, established in a remote area of colonial Algeria, used in the 1960s to launch satellites, but now abandoned. There is also the San Marco platform in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya used by Italians to launch scientific satellites using American rockets. Another case is the Thumba rocket site near the southern tip of India which hosted scientists from all over the world in the 1960s–including Americans and Soviets–at the height of the Cold War. The other two sites are Baikonur in Kazakhstan and Vandenburg in southern California.
With the funding of the Guggenhiem, his goal is to produce a photographic document along with text–part history, part ethnography, and part oral history–that will be a record of these “departure gates.” An extension of this work will be to produce a museum exhibit dedicated to a “global history of space on Earth.”