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The Politics of Disaster: A Global Environmental History (251-0-20)


Lydia Barnett
Harris Hall - Room 305

Meeting Info

Kresge Centennial Hall 2-415: Tues, Thurs 3:30PM - 4:50PM

Overview of class

The term ‘natural disaster' conjures images of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, and other powerful forces of nature that strike without warning, inflicting massive suffering on a powerless and unsuspecting populace. We now have several decades' worth of research from the social sciences and humanities showing that so-called "natural" disasters are not very natural at all. Instead, they are deeply political and profoundly man-made. This course adopts a historical and global approach in order to denaturalize disaster. From famines in British India to earthquakes in post-colonial Peru, from floods in New Orleans to nuclear disaster in Japan, we will see how disasters expose and exacerbate pre-existing inequalities, inflicting suffering disproportionately among those groups already marginalized by race, class, gender, geography, and age. These inequalities shape not only the impact of the disaster but the range of responses to it, including political critique and retrenchment, relief and rebuilding efforts, memorialization, and planning - or failing to plan - for future disasters of a similar kind. The course culminates in a unit on the contemporary challenge of anthropogenic global climate change, the ultimate man-made disaster. We will consider how memories, fears, and fantasies of past disasters are being repurposed to create new visions of what climate change will look like.

Evaluation Method

2 midterm exams, 1 final paper, participation

Class Materials (Required)

All readings will be made available online.
Suggested Purchase: Gillen d'Arcy Wood, Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World (2014) 9780691168623

Class Notes

Area of Concentration: Global, Americas, Asia/Middle East, Africa/Middle East, European

Class Attributes

Historical Studies Foundational Discipline
Social and Behavioral Science Foundational Discipl
Historical Studies Distro Area
Global Perspectives on Power, Justice, and Equity
Social & Behavioral Sciences Distro Area

Associated Classes

DIS - Annenberg Hall G28: Fri 10:00AM - 10:50AM

DIS - Locy Hall 305: Fri 11:00AM - 11:50AM

DIS - Kresge Centennial Hall 2-440: Fri 1:00PM - 1:50PM

DIS - University Hall 218: Fri 10:00AM - 10:50AM

DIS - Annenberg Hall G30: Fri 11:00AM - 11:50AM

DIS - University Hall 318: Fri 1:00PM - 1:50PM