Los Alamos History Museum Launches Japan Initiative


The Los Alamos Historical Museum has been awarded a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to increase the cultural understanding between the communities of Los Alamos, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Museum Director Judith Stauber, Museum Registrar Stephanie Yeamans and Intern Kallie Funk, a Los Alamos High School student, will travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, Japan March 24 to visit museums and historic sites. They will meet with colleagues at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum with the goal of developingdialogue between the communities.

“This project will advance the role of museums in society as a place for genuine social change though innovative learning experiences,” Stauber said. “Museums are in a culturally unique position to facilitate discussion of difficult subject matter in non-threatening ways.”

In the decades since the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan,scientists and educators in both countries have exchanged ideas and information, but these conversations have not been matched by significant cultural exchanges, despite the countries being allies, she said. New Mexico and Japan share a history that is connected by events, but on a societal level cultural controversy still exists.

”Our unique museums are communicators of a shared history—from Los Alamos, the place where the world’s first atomic weapons were created, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the places that were devastated by the very same bombs,” Stauber said. “Our histories are inexorably linked, yet our cultures could not be more separate. In our respective museums, one story ends where another begins. Yet, little mutual understandingexists.”

Outcomes from the travel to Japan include meaningful face-to-face dialogue, exchanges of personnel and material culture, new programs, and new opportunities for visitor engagement, Stauber said, “further proof that museums are places to communicate innovative ideas that bridge differences across community and ideology as well as advance understanding of the complexity of their respective peoples, places and histories.”

The grant-funded travel is the beginning of a multi-phase initiative that will include the development of a traveling exhibit, cultural exchange programs, and publications.

The Los Alamos Historical Museum staff will also visit with Monica Bethe, daughter of Manhattan Project physicist Hans and his wife Rose. Monica spent much of her adult life studying and living in Japan and resides in Kyoto.

While they are in Japan, the Museum staff will update the Los Alamos community through a travel blog, social media (follow the Los Alamos Historical Museum in Facebook and Twitter), and local media coverage.

In spite of deep global and societal divisions throughout the world today, museums—especially museums with a shared yet divisive history—can remind the world of the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”