Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Vincent J. Cannato

Second Advisor

Jane Becker

Third Advisor

Harvey Green


In 2009, the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee debuted an updated history exhibit about the town’s role as one of three secret cities in the Manhattan Project. The exhibit presented a celebratory tone in honor of the innocent people who unknowingly and victoriously participated in the construction of the atomic bomb that aided the Allies in their successful end of WWII. The exhibit omitted the larger national, political nuclear discussion that took place over the following sixty-five years, cementing a long-held victory culture identity. In a 2009 world, the AMSE exhibit seemed incomplete, if not obtuse. Innocent Victors traces the history of AMAE/AMSE to examine the social, cultural, and political path that resulted in the 2009 and final AMSE exhibits. An analysis of public history commemoration trends, America’s twentieth century identity politics, and a chronicle of historical interpretation in Oak Ridge reveal a divergence in understood commemoration practices. Established public history theory suggests that the official and vernacular voices form a dichotomous relationship when interpreting the historical narrative. This thesis holds significant implications for examining the intersections between community and government perspectives on the historical narrative. This study also unearths specific theoretical and methodological barriers to interpreting the atomic bomb at public spaces in the United States. Moreover, Innocent Victors presents a commentary on the ongoing national discussion about the past, present, and future placement of the atomic bomb in American politics, ideology, and society.

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