Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions

One of the great pleasures of doing this podcast was meeting new people. Cindy Ermus and I had never met. There might have been a few quick Twitter interactions, but that was about it. Her work on the Plague of Provence and on disasters in the Gulf South make explicit and important connections with catastrophic history, and I was also especially keen to get her insight on the relationship between disaster and revolution. This turned out to be one of my favourite interviews—made all the richer for the fact that we started out as relative strangers. The conversation was fascinating, and it went in a number of directions I hadn’t anticipated.

Cindy Ermus is an historian at the University of Lethbridge. She is the editor of Environmental Disasters in the Gulf South: Two Centuries of Catastrophe, Risk, and Resilience, forthcoming in January 2018 from LSU Press. In addition, she is a co-founder and editor of Age of Revolutions, an historical blog that helps to situate these questions within a critical and broader context.

Next week: 3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons

It’s important that you know that I think that when I refer to “catastrophic conversations” in the introductions to the podcasts I’m referring to the topic and its tenor, not how I think the conversation went. Last fall I spoke with Scott Knowles, an historian of disasters at Drexel University. He is the author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America. In a pre-Trump era, the discussion ranged rather happily along lines of risk, slow disasters, disaster policy, and how to use history to inform contemporary debate. This first issue—risk—is one that has run in the background of many of my research interests, and so I was very interested to learn from Knowles how he engaged with it.

What I’ve long admired about Knowles’s work is its ability to cross boundaries between academic theory and practical policymaking. A couple of weeks after our conversation, the impossible happened. Trump was elected President of the United States, and the whole idea of disasters and disaster preparedness went out the window. Nobody knew what would happen next. What if—perish the thought—2017 turned out to be a bad hurricane year? As the summer passed and I prepared to publish the podcast series on a weekly basis, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma crashed through the Gulf Coast. While the storms may have subsided, it’s much too early to evaluate the nature of disaster and destruction—or to think about what lessons we might have learned. Nevertheless, Knowles provides valuable insight into how we need to understand, calculate, and manage risk and disaster in the contemporary world.

Next week: 26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War

The second instalment of the “Bedtime Stories” podcast series is a conversation I had with Jacob Hamblin, an historian at Oregon State University, last fall. A few years ago, Hamblin very kindly skyped into my undergraduate “History of the Future” class to talk about his book, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism. They enjoyed the book and got a lot out of his participation in class, which consisted of a bit of a back-and-forth between us and a Q&A with the students. That book and his current work prompted my desire to talk with him for this series on catastrophic history.

Please feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section below.

Next week: 19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

Previous: 5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides

This interview with Michelle Mart marks the substantive start to “Catastrophe is our Bedtime Story” podcast series on catastrophic history. I spoke with Mart, an historian at Penn State Berks, last October about her recent book, Pesticides, a Love Story: America’s Enduring Embrace of Dangerous Chemicals. Given my own interest in hazardous materials, this conversation seemed the right place to begin this inaugural series of discussions on catastrophic history.

Please feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section below

Next week: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” ( with Jacob Hamblin)

Catastrophe is our Bedtime Story

Happy new (academic) year. With new years come new resolutions, promises, and projects. I resolve to post/write more. I promise. Here’s a new project!

The embedded Soundcloud tab below is the introductory podcast for a new audio series I am launching this fall. During the fall of 2016 and winter 2017, I interviewed a number of colleagues in and around catastrophic history. What is catastrophic history? Click the audio for a brief introduction. And stay tuned for future conversations. The series title, “Catastrophe is our Bedtime Story,” comes from Don DeLillo’s Zero K. I rather liked the vulgarity of the suggestion.

Thanks for listening!