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.

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