Representing Place: “Deserted Isles” and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll


Correspondence: Department of Geography, University of Vermont, 200 Old Mill, 94 University Place, Burlington, VT 05405, e-mail:


Bikini Atoll has been reshaped through time according to Western mythologies regarding “deserted” islands. Geographers have increasingly recognized that landscapes are shaped by the ways human agents conceptualize places. Ideals that shape places are not only based on interpretations of a given place, however, but are also formed by the semiotic linking of representations of similar landscapes. Conceptualizations of Bikini Atoll enabled the drastic alteration of the landscape by nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s as well as subsequent development projects such as the current tourism operation on the atoll. The information presented in this article stems from interview research conducted in the Marshall Islands in 2001 and 2002 as well as from a review of historical accounts of the atoll from 1945 to the present. The conceptualizations of Bikini Atoll held by members of the Bikinian community, U.S. military and government officials, other people living in the Marshall Islands, and visitors to the atoll explain the transformations of the atoll landscape. Going beyond the notion of landscapes as readable texts, places can be understood as discursive-material formations where the semiotic meanings of places are intrinsically entwined with their reproduction.