In recent years, the history of natural catastrophes has become a flourishing area of research. The existing literature has focused on questions of perception, interpretation, coping strategies, and institutional change triggered by such events. Thus far, little attention has been paid to problems of uncertainty in the history of natural disasters. This is especially the case for the modern era, when the destructive potential of natural forces has reached new heights due to the steadily increasing entangling of the environment in the infrastructure of human activity. Therefore, this conference aims to take a closer look at the historical intersections of uncertainty, hazards, risk, and extreme natural events.
We are interested in different historical approaches to dealing with uncertain environments, ranging from individual and local attempts to national programs and transnational or even global undertakings. Especially interesting in this respect is the history of natural hazard insurance – both in a very practical sense and as an innovative way of spreading the risks of natural hazards over time and space.
Some of the questions to be explored are: How has risk been defined in the past and how have these concepts changed over time? When and how have natural hazards been transformed into risks (and maybe back again)? How have seemingly random “freak events” been incorporated into scientific discourses and thereby made “predictable”? How much chaos and unpredictability remained in these events? Furthermore, if – as many authors have pointed out – risk is manufactured by society, how is the access to risk management devices distributed along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, and gender?
Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the history of
- programs devoted to emergency planning by governmental and non-governmental organizations
- technological, material and built devices to avoid or soften the impact of an expected disaster like flood control works or building codes for earthquake-prone regions
- case studies of particularly exposed cities and landscapes
- legal programs developed to deal with natural hazards
- the importance of cultural factors in anticipating and preparing for disaster, such as concepts of trust and confidence on the one hand, and a certain “culture of risk”, i.e. the (willing) acceptance of an uncertain and unstable environment, on the other
- the development of emergeny financial reserves
- the history of natural hazard insurance schemes, such as flood, hail, earthquake, storm, or crop and livestock insurance, as well as the history of particular insurance and reinsurance companies
- the importance of statistics and probability theory in rationalizing nature
Please send a short proposal of no more than 300 words and a brief CV including a list of relevant publications to Bärbel Thomas at B.Thomas@ghi-dc.org (fax: 202-483-3430). The deadline for submission is March 1, 2007. Participants will be notified by mid-April at the latest.
The conference will be held in English and focus on the discussion of precirculated papers of about 7,000 to 8,000 words (due by August 15, 2007). The GHI will cover the cost for travel and accommodations of participants. Please send inquiries to Uwe Luebken (firstname.lastname@example.org).
German Historical Institute
1607 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
German Historical Institute (GHI)
1607 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20009-2562
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