History in Review
Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses
Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History. Edited by Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister. An International Environmental History Publication of the German Historical Institute. (Lexington Books, a Division on Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; Lanham, Maryland: 2009. Pg. xi, 382.) ISBN: 978-0-7391-2416-1.
Reviewed by Herbert White - April 14, 2009
Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History is an intriguing collection of essays that examine environmental history through the lens of natural disasters that have occurred around the world, and throughout time. These essays serve not only to document the events under discussion, but also to illustrate how these events are studied and quantified. They also examine how people have reacted to such events in the past and their long term consequences. Most important, these essays show the lessons we have learned from these past events and how we should prepare for natural disasters in the future.
In all, there are thirteen essays in this collection, each written by experts in a variety of fields including environmental science, history, and geography. The following is a list of the essays found this collection. A simple glance over the list will give you an idea of the range of disasters covered, and the time periods and locations in which they occurred.
I found this collection of essays to be not only informative, but also absorbing to read and ponder. The editors of this collection, Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister have selected essays from such a broad spectrum of human experience that you truly begin to get a feel for how different cultures, in different periods, dealt with natural disasters and how these disasters impacted the various cultures. I was intrigued by the various methods, both physical and spiritual that the various cultures used to deal with, and explain, these natural disasters that ranged from famines, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods.
- Learning from Nature-Induced Disasters: Theoretical Considerations and Case Studies from Western Europe, by Christian Pfister
- Disaster and Political Culture in Germany since 1500, by Franz Mauelshagen
- Summer Frost: A Natural Hazard with Fatal Consequences in Preindustrial Finland, by Timo Myllyntaus
- Society and Natural Risks in France, 1500-2000: Changing Historical Perspectives, by René Favier and Anne-Marie Granet-Abisset
- Humanitarianism and Colonialism: Religious Responses to the Algerian Drought and Famine of 1866-1870, by Bertrand Taithe
- The Floods of Baghdad: Cultural and Technological Responses, by Otfried Weintritt
- Interpreting Earthquakes in Medieval Islamic Texts, by Anna A. Akasoy
- Famine in Bengal: A Comparison of the 1770 Famine in Bengal and the 1897 Famine in Chotanagpur, by Vinita Damodaran
- "Heaven-Sent Disasters" in Late Imperial China: The Scope of the State and Beyond, by Andrea Janku
- Cultures of Disaster, Cultures of Coping: Hazard as a Frequent Life Experience in the Philippines, by Greg Bankoff
- The Parana River Floods during the Spanish Colonial Period: Impact and Responses, by María del Rosario Prieto
- Documenting Disaster: Archival Investigations of Climate, Crisis, and Catastrophe in Colonial Mexico, by Georgina H. Endfield, Sarah J. Davies, Isabel Fernández Tejedo, Sarah E. Metcalfe, and Sarah L. O'Hara
- American Disasters during the Twentieth Century: The Case of New Jersey, by James K. Mitchell
This is an academically rigorous study, and it comes complete with graphs, endnotes, and charts. Throughout, the essays in this collection are written in such a manner that readers from every segment of society will find the text understandable and will come away from this book with a greater appreciate of the threat posed by natural hazards, and how the historical record can provide lessons for the future. As well, this book illustrates how natural disasters are studied, from a historical perspective, and the benefit that society, as a whole, gains from these studies.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest, either professional or personal, in natural disasters, how people have reacted to them in the past, and how we can prepare for them in the future.
Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868 - 1930, by Gregory Clancey.
A riveting look at how seismic activity, especially the 1891 Nobi Earthquake, affected Japanese cultural, political, and architectural development and how it altered Japan's relationship with the West.
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, by David R. Montgomery.
A detailed history of soil, and the disastrous impact that the loss of top-soil can, and has had, on civilizations.
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