Davide Orsini

Davide Orsini

Davide Orsini

Assistant Professor

208 Allen Hall

Science and Technology Studies, Modern Europe (Especially Mediterranean), Nuclear Studies, Public and Environmental Health, US Empire, Cold War.




  • Ph.D., Anthropology & History, and STS - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (2015)
  • MSC European and Comparative Politics - University of Siena, Italy (2004)
  • BA Political Science, summa cum laude - University of Siena, Italy (2002)

Academic Career

  • Assistant Professor of History, Mississippi State University, 2016-
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Science and Technology in Society, Virginia Tech University, Northern Virginia Center, 2015-2016
  • Graduate Student Instructor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2009-2011 and 2013-2014

Research Interests


  • Modern Europe: Italy, Mediterranean, Transatlantic Relations
  • Science and Technology: Nuclear Security, Risk, Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Disposal
  • Public and Environmental Health: Sociotechnical Controversies, Environmental Knowledge
  • Cold War: Technopolitics, U.S. Military presence overseas
  • Secrecy and the Production of Ignorance
  • Methods: Archives, Oral History, and Ethnography

Davide Orsini’s research explores the intersections of Science and Technology Studies, nuclear studies, environmental history and anthropology, and the history of Empire, with a global historical approach to modern Europe (especially the Mediterranean area) and the United States. His book manuscript Life in the Nuclear Archipelago: Cold War Technopolitics and US Nuclear Submarines in Italy (in progress) is based on two-year archival and ethnographic research in Italy and the United States. It analyzes the political, ecological, and public health controversies following the installation of a U.S. Navy base for nuclear submarines in the Archipelago of La Maddalena (Sardinia) between 1972 and 2008. The study examines the radiation surveillance system set up to monitor the environmental impact of the nuclear base, as a lens for exploring the relationship between national sovereignty, scientific knowledge production, and citizenship in the geopolitical context of the Mediterranean area after World War Two. The first part documents how the Italian Navy transformed La Maddalena into a military-industrial site over two centuries. Given the historic acquiescence of the local population with the military presence and its positive economic benefits, debates over the U.S. nuclear base focused primarily on controversies over episodes of birth defects and malformations, two accidents involving nuclear submarines, and delays in the implementation of a plan for public safety and environmental monitoring. Chapter two details the politics of nuclear ontology in Cold War Italy, explaining how the Italian government, the U.S. Navy, and anti-base activists disputed over the nuclear status of the base, and the need for safety measures routinely implemented around civilian nuclear installations. The second part of the manuscript explores the politics of scientific knowledge production in Cold War Italy through a complementary analysis of military secrecy and epistemic traditions of Italian nuclear experts. Finally, the study advances a historical semiotic approach to study how both experts and non-experts use material signs to make invisible risks (like nuclear contamination) visible.

Orsini’s next book-length project focuses on the nuclear decommissioning industry in Western Europe. What is involved in dismantling a nuclear plant? And how do residents living around decommissioning installations make sense of efforts to restore “natural” conditions at a nuclear site? Nuclear decommissioning is generally represented as a “new” pressing issue, but its history reveals that projects to safely dismantle nuclear installations and secure their waste materials have been going on since the early 1960s. They involved problems of national and international safety regulations, environmental restoration, waste storage, spent fuel reprocessing, transportation of hazardous materials, and international security. Through the history of nuclear decommissioning, this project explores how European nation-states negotiated notions of environmental preservation and technological development by designing transnational regulatory practices and by harmonizing (or failing to do so) scientific traditions and technical expertise. The research will start in Italy, where in 1987, after the Chernobyl disaster, the government phased out the national nuclear program and slowly instructed a plan for nuclear decommissioning that is still going on.


A second, related project is focused on the “toxic history” of the Mediterranean Sea. The aim of the research is to expand the traditional area of Mediterranean studies, which has been traditionally concerned with historical memory, conflict, encounters, and the cultural reproduction of connectivity. It will adopt a technopolitical perspective to explore the history of European environmental programs financed to save the Mediterranean from anthropic pollution (both industrial and military), and to study the consequences of illegal traffics of toxic waste from Europe to Third World countries.


  •  “Signs of Risk: Materiality, History, and Meaning in Cold War Controversies over Nuclear Contamination,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 63 (3), July 2020, pp. 530-550.
  • “Taking samples: an envirotechnical account of radioecology in Cold War Italy” forthcoming, Annali Istituto Storico Italo-Germanico | Italienisch-Deutsches Historisches Institut ISIG/FBK 2, November 2020, Special Issue on “Environmental history: new approaches and research perspectives.”
  • “L’eredità di Carlo Poni ed i punti di contatto fra microstoria e Science and Technology Studies (STS),” Quaderni Storici 161 (2) 2020, pp. 566-575.
  • “Experts at Risk: Nuclear Expertise, Military Secrets, and Radioecology in the Early 1970s around the US Navy base of La Maddalena, Italy,” in MacDowell, Laurel (Ed.), Nuclear Portraits, University of Toronto Press,  2017.

Presentations and Talks

  • “Nuclear Dystopias: Imaginaries about Waste Disposal in Italy,” panel on “Regulating the Nuclear Imaginary,” Annual Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, Washington D.C., April 2016.
  • “Environmental Justice and Cold War Technopolitics in the Archipelago of La Maddalena (Italy),” panel on “International Perspectives on Environmental Justice and STS,” Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, Denver, CO, November 2015.
  • “Toward a Semiotic Analysis of Citizen Risk Perceptions,” Anthropology and the Environment Rappaport Prize Panel, Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Denver, CO, November 2015.
  • “Waiting for Discovering The ‘Truth’: Uncertainty and Claims of Radiation Exposure in La Maddalena,” presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington D.C., December 2014.
  • “Bodies of evidence: Ecologies, Proofs, and the Politics of Risk Perception,” panel organized for the Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, Dearborn MI, November 2014
  • “History in the Anthropocene: The Environment, Natural Sciences, and Planetary Narratives," Panel Discussion, Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies Workshop Series, University of Michigan, September 2014.
  • “Italian Radioecology and the Radiosurveillance System of La Maddalena,” invited presentation, ENEA Center for the Study of Marine Environments and Contamination, Fiascherino (La Spezia), Italy, December 16, 2013. 
  • “Science and Safety in the Nuclear Age: Radioecology, the Cold War, and US Nuclear Submarines in Italy,” guest lecture, course on “Global Nuclear Proliferation,” (Prof. Gabrielle Hecht), University of Michigan, November 6, 2013.
  • “Accidents and Risk Perception: A Historical Analysis of “Civic Dislocation” in the Archipelago of La Maddalena (Italy, 2003),” presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, Portland ME, October 2013                    
  • “Purity and Danger in Cold War Italy: Nuclear Power and Fears of Pollution around the US Navy base of La Maddalena,” presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, Cleveland, November 2011
  •  “The Making of the ‘Mediterranean’ during the Cold War: The case of La Maddalena, Italy,” presented at “Meditopos,” a conference on Mediterranean Studies, University of Michigan, April 2010


Honors & Awards

  • ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2015.
  • Roy Rappaport Prize in Environmental Anthropology, Finalist. American Anthropological Association, Annual Meeting, Denver CO, November 2015.
  • Sidney Fine Prize for Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor in History, History Department, University of Michigan, 2014-15.
  • Rackham Humanities Research Fellowship, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2014.
  • Mellon Dissertation Seminar in the Humanities, “Science Studies, Cultural Theory, and Scholarly Writing,” University of Michigan, 2013 
  • National Science Foundation, Dissertation Improvement Grant SES-1155907, 2012
  • Rackham International Research Award, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2012                
  • Rackham Humanities Candidacy Award, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2012
  • Jean Monnet Graduate Fellowship, Center for European Studies, University of Michigan, 2010                 
  • Global Transformations Fellowship, Center for International and Comparative Studies, University of Michigan, 2010
  • Lack Fellowship, Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, University of Michigan, 2010


Courses Taught

  • Historiography and Historical Methods
  • History of Science and Technology
  • Modern European History
  • Modern Italy
  • Theory and Methods in STS
  • History and Politics of Climate Change
  • Environmental Knowledge and Risk: Historical and Ethnographic Approaches

Professional Associations

American Anthropological Association

American Society for Environmental History

Society for Social Studies of Science

Society for the History of Technology

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