Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Toxic Timescapes
Examining Toxicity across Time and Space

Edited by Simone M. Müller and May-Brith Ohman Nielsen

“An ambitiously interdisciplinary volume offering thought-provoking new ways for considering how toxic landscapes challenge a linear, colonialist, and capitalist model of time-as-progress.”

Vivien Hamilton, coeditor of Inevitably Toxic: Historical Perspectives on Contamination, Exposure and Expertise

An interdisciplinary environmental humanities volume that explores human-environment relationships on our permanently polluted planet.

While toxicity and pollution are ever present in modern daily life, politicians, juridical systems, media outlets, scholars, and the public alike show great difficulty in detecting, defining, monitoring, or generally coming to terms with them. This volume’s contributors argue that the source of this difficulty lies in the struggle to make sense of the intersecting temporal and spatial scales working on the human and more-than-human body, while continuing to acknowledge race, class, and gender in terms of global environmental justice and social inequality.

The term toxic timescapes refers to this intricate intersectionality of time, space, and bodies in relation to toxic exposure. As a tool of analysis, it unpacks linear understandings of time and explores how harmful substances permeate temporal and physical space as both event and process. It equips scholars with new ways of creating data and conceptualizing the past, present, and future presence and possible effects of harmful substances and provides a theoretical framework for new environmental narratives. To think in terms of toxic timescapes is to radically shift our understanding of toxicants in the complex web of life.

Toxicity, pollution, and modes of exposure are never static; therefore, dose, timing, velocity, mixture, frequency, and chronology matter as much as the geographic location and societal position of those exposed. Together, these factors create a specific toxic timescape that lies at the heart of each contributor’s narrative. Contributors from the disciplines of history, human geography, science and technology studies, philosophy, and political ecology come together to demonstrate the complex reality of a toxic existence. Their case studies span the globe as they observe the intersection of multiple times and spaces at such diverse locations as former battlefields in Vietnam, aging nuclear-weapon storage facilities in Greenland, waste deposits in southern Italy, chemical facilities along the Gulf of Mexico, and coral-breeding laboratories across the world.

Simone M. Müller is Heisenberg Professor for Global Environmental History and Environmental Humanities at the University of Augsburg Germany. As a historian and environmental humanities scholar, she works at the intersection of globalization processes, discards, and environmental justice.   More info →

May-Brith Ohman Nielsen is a professor of history and history didactics at the University of Agder and project leader of the research group “Deadly Dreams: The Cultural History of Poison, 1850–2020.” Her work in environmental history and environmental humanities focuses on pesticides in social, generational, and historical contexts. Her other research areas include the history of epidemics, everyday life, and ideologies.   More info →

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix

Simone M. Müller and May-Brith Ohman Nielsen 1

Part 1 Conceptualizing the Long Term

Introduction 17

Chapter 1 Living with Poison: Exploring Generations as Toxic Timescapes
May-Brith Ohman Nielsen 21

Chapter 2 Slow Observation: Witnessing Long-Term Pollution and Environmental Racism in Cancer Alley
Thom Davies

Chapter 3 When Does Safe Mean Safe? Negotiating the Disposal of Radioactive Waste between Months and Millennia
Iris Borowy 72

Part 2 Ontologies of Toxic Space

Introduction 103

Chapter 4 The Chemical Platoon, the Abandoned Base, and the Village: Human Experiences of Multiple Toxic Timescapes in Vietnam
David Biggs 107

Chapter 5 Toxic Flows and Societal Exposures: The Maritime Toxic Timescape, Environmental Degradation, and Social and Political Change on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast from the 1950s Onward
Anna S. Antonova 130

Chapter 6 Colonial Occupation as a Toxic Timescape in Anaiwan Country (Australia)
Kate Wright 153

Part 3 Expanding upon the Toxic Body

Introduction 183

Chapter 7 Toxic Bios: Traversing Toxic Timescapes through Corporeal Storytelling
Ilenia Iengo and Marco Armiero 187

Chapter 8 Storying Toxic Timescape “Trajectories:" Intersections among Algal Toxins and More-Than-Human Bodies
Jesse D. Peterson 212

Chapter 9 Embodying Fear and Toxicity: Environmental Protests against West Germany’s Final Repository for Nuclear Waste in Gorleben, 1977–1980
Astrid Mignon Kirchhof 233

Chapter 10 Toxic Timescapes and the Double Fracture of Modernity: Chlordecone Contamination of Martinique and Guadeloupe
Malcom Ferdinand 253

Part 4 Conceptualizing Toxic Futures

Introduction 285

Chapter 11 The Toxic Water Clock On the Salton Sea and Camp Century
Jason R. Parry 289

Chapter 12 Decision and Radioactive Principles for the Future: Thinking the Inheritance of Nuclear Waste Repositories with Gramsci and Derrida
Michael Peterson 308

Chapter 13 Speculative Conservation and Assisted Evolution: Interventions in Extinction Timescapes
Anna-Katharina Laboissière 328

Contributors 353

Index 359

Order a print copy

Paperback · $29.56 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $36.95 · Save 20% ($29.56)

Hardcover · $64 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $80.00 · Save 20% ($64)

Buy from a local bookstore


US and Canada only

Download an electronic copy


This is an Open Access title. An electronic version of this book is freely available, thanks to the support of libraries working with Knowledge Unlatched, a collaborative initiative designed to make high quality books Open Access for the public good.

Cover of Toxic Timescapes

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon


Desk Copy Examination Copy Review Copy

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center


Retail price: $36.95, S.
Release date: January 2023
20 illus. · 388 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: January 2023
20 illus. · 388 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: January 2023
20 illus. · 388 pages
Rights: except Worldwide

Related Titles

Cover of 'Coffee Is Not Forever'

Coffee Is Not Forever
A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust
By Stuart McCook

Coffee Is Not Forever assesses the global spread of a dire existential threat—coffee rust—to a crop consumers take for granted. In departing from commodity histories’ usual emphasis on the social and economic, and instead putting ecology at the forefront, Stuart McCook offers the first truly global environmental history of coffee.

History | Historical Geography · World and Comparative History

Cover of 'Inventing Pollution'

Inventing Pollution
Coal, Smoke, and Culture in Britain since 1800
By Peter Thorsheim
· Preface by Peter Thorsheim

Inventing Pollution examines new understandings of pollution, centered not on organic decay but on coal combustion, that emerged in the late 19th century in Britain. This change, Thorsheim argues, gave birth to the smoke-abatement movement and to new ways of thinking about the relationships among humanity, technology, and the environment.

British History · Environmental Policy · History of Technology · Medical | Health Policy · Victorian Studies · History | Historical Geography · United Kingdom

Cover of 'Ailing in Place'

Ailing in Place
Environmental Inequities and Health Disparities in Appalachia
By Michele Morrone

Ailing in Place examines environmental conditions in Appalachia and explores the relationship between those conditions and certain health outcomes that are often incorrectly ascribed to poor individual choices.

Social Science | Disease & Health Issues · Medical | Health Policy · Environmental Policy · Appalachia

Cover of 'Becoming a Place of Unrest'

Becoming a Place of Unrest
Environmental Crisis and Ecophenomenological Praxis
By Robert Booth

In this bold argument, Robert Booth asserts that the environmental crisis stems from our anthropocentric understanding of, and behavior in, the more-than-human world. Linking environmental phenomenology to ecofeminism, he shows why and how an ecophenomenological praxis may interrupt the environmental crisis at its source.

Philosophy | Movements | Phenomenology · Nature | Environmental Conservation & Protection · Social Science | Feminism & Feminist Theory · Philosophy · Environmental Studies