Mystics & Statistics: Catastrophic History

Another video stub. This one reflecting on anticipating disaster. One of the ideas I hope to explore in HIST 3CH3 is how we predict and prepare for disaster. As with my interests in chemical pollution, we seem to spend little time minding disaster prevention and mitigation. This is an interesting avenue of investigation—and one that should reward careful study.

Consider Tehran. The Iranian capital has witnessed a series of powerful earthquakes going back to the ancient world. The most recent quake that registered a magnitude greater than 7 on the Richter scale came in 1830. That was the last of eight major tremors over the previous 2000 years. Since then, the city has expanded considerably. Today more than 13 million people live in the region. Much of the construction—as with the challenges in many rapidly urbanizing centres the world over—has not taken into account the necessary architectural precautions to minimize the damage the next earthquake might cause. Jakarta might serve as another example of an over-populated urban centre that is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. They are two of any number of cities that lack the kind of infrastructure that indicates an acute awareness of the hazards associated with natural disasters. They also share a socio-economic predicament: big cities with poor populations, who are especially vulnerable. These are contemporary social issues, but along with asking questions about the history of disaster preparedness, I think we might also start to ask how these trends emerged and what forces manifested them.

The System of All Things?

For a video promo, advertising new online courses offered in the History Department at McMaster University, I referred to my own class, HIST 2EE3: Science and Technology in World History, as “Grand Central Station.”

Below, a brief reflection on what I meant and a brief pitch for the course, which remains the flagship for my offerings at the intersections of the histories of science, technology, and environment at McMaster University.

Catastrophic Musings

An attempt at a new format to complement or further wreak havoc with any semblance of order here (not that interminable silence is a particularly attractive blog aesthetic). I’ve been mulling some variant of this over the past week—about catastrophe and our collective fascination with it. At the same time, I’ve been curious about the relationship between Don DeLillo’s treatment of it in popular culture perspective and Walter Benjamin’s conviction that violence is a central component to the human condition and that we should reflect on catastrophe, not as a punctuated moment in a progressive historical narrative, but rather as a central narrative thread of the human condition.

There didn’t seem to be any obvious place to write this, but it also occurred to me that as a part of the foundation for my upcoming course on natural and technological disasters, maybe it was worth hatching it in film format. Maybe a series of these shorter musings become the “lectures” for the class so that we can devote more class time to student discovery.

In any case, new course to be taught in January 2017 for the first time. HIST 3CH3—Catastrophic History: Natural and Technological Disasters. The video below offers a glimpse of the kinds of things I’m thinking about.