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Jamie Pietruska: High School Teachers Institute

Friday, October 16, 2020, 10:00am - 01:00pm

Accidents and Disaster in the US and the World

October 16, 2020

 Jamie Pietruska, Associate Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

Although accidents and disasters are often perceived as isolated, rare events, they have become increasingly central to the history of the United States and the world over the past four centuries. Through efforts to anticipate hazards, develop new tools for risk management, build infrastructures for relief, expand government capacity for disaster response, and remember victims, accidents and disasters have become a part of everyday life. In this seminar, we will begin with an introduction to some concepts (including normal accidents, unnatural disasters, and disaster capitalism) that scholars have used to understand risk and catastrophe in modern life. Then we will trace the history of hurricane prediction, beginning with knowledge about hurricanes in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic World, then examining the late nineteenth-century use of telegraph networks for storm tracking and the creation of the U.S. hurricane reporting network in the West Indies during the Spanish-Cuban-American War, and concluding with computerized hurricane forecast models in the context of Hurricane Katrina. The seminar will also suggest ways to incorporate the history of hurricane forecasting into broader themes in U.S. history courses, including American imperial expansion, the growth of federal administrative capacity, and racialized patterns of housing and transportation in American cities.

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