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32.3 - Historical Disaster Research

Special Issue
Mixed Issue
HSR Vol. 32 (2007) No. 3: Special Issue: Historical Disaster Research

Gerrit Jasper Schenk & Jens Ivo Engels (Hrsg.): Historical Disaster Research. Concepts, Methods and Case Studies

Almost every week the media report on disasters somewhere in the world or on disasters on a global scale, such as climate change. They discuss the frequency and gravity of disasters or unprecedented events like nuclear plant explosions and global warming. Yet while humanity has always been haunted by disasters, historical disaster research is a comparatively recent trend. This volume presents the research approach and work of the young academics’ network of the German Research Foundation “Historical disaster research with a view to comparative cultural study” (Historische Erforschung von Katastrophen in kulturvergleichender Perspektive).

The emphasis is on discussing concepts, methods and theoretical models for the specifically historical analysis of natural disasters. A number of case studies illustrate the potential of this line of research. The geographical focus is on Europe and the Mediterranean cultures, while the timescale extends from antiquity to the present. The spotlight is not just on the destructive consequences of disasters, but also on the culturally constructive follow-up. Questions are asked about the perception and interpretation of disasters in the interface between nature and culture, and on reactions to them. What makes cultures differently vulnerable to disasters and what can we learn from them? This joint research effort aims inter alia to contribute to a history of the concept (Begriffsgeschichte) of ‘disaster’ with a view to comparative cultural study in an interdisciplinary spirit.