History of Natural Disasters


Course Objective

Learning to design and conduct historical research independently; to
apply concepts and theories; to take a stand in a historical debate.

Course Content

All sorts of authorities discuss how to give priority to the
preservation of our planet for future generations. Often discussions
focus on sustainability and quality of live. This course will focus on
’nature-induced’ disasters on land and during the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, thereby taking for granted that most natural
disasters have a human component. Examples of natural disasters with
great impacts are the Tambora earthquakes of 1815 in Indonesia and 1923
in Japan, the floods of the Zuiderzee estuary in 1825 and 1916, the
tsunami in de Indian Ocean of 2004 and the Katrina flood of New Orleans
in 2005. A wide array of questions will be posed and addressed from
environmental, institutional, cultural and socio-economic historical
perspectives and environmental humanities.
In this course we distinguish two approaches, the management approach,
including the history of prevention of natural disasters (Pfister 2009)
and the cultural approach, the history of perceptions of natural
disasters (Bankoff 2003, Assmann 2008). Managing includes developing
social, economic, technological and political institutions and practices
for prevention of and coping with natural disasters, all aimed,
ultimately, at the improved resilience of a society. A historical
question is how do long term developments show changes from traditional
coping mechanisms to more ‘modern’ learning and investment in increasing
resilience? Perceptions of disasters may include ideas and memories.
Perceptions are important to understand the contemporary explanations of
the causes of disasters. In the long run we expect a gradual change from
more spiritual or religious explanations to more natural explanations,
informed by natural sciences. How does that interact with the perceived
possibilities for managing and preventing disasters? Perceptions are
also related to memories. How are commemorative narratives about
disasters formed? How do they contribute to collective memories like
nation building? How do memories contribute to building resilience?
(Pfister 2011). This course content is closely related to on-going
research projects and we will explore newspaper databases.

Teaching Methods

2 sessions of 2 hours per week in November and December.
Final presentations and submission research paper in January.
Presence at 80% of the sessions is mandatory.

Method of Assessment

Written Newspaper report (10%), Oral presentation of research project
(20%); Research paper (70%).


Literature provided by lecturer through CANVAS.

Target Audience

Master students History

Additional Information

Of this MA-course also a version exists for the Research Master.

General Information

Course Code L_GEMAGES012
Credits 6 EC
Period P2+3
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator prof. dr. P.J.E.M. van Dam
Examiner prof. dr. P.J.E.M. van Dam
Teaching Staff prof. dr. P.J.E.M. van Dam

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar
Target audiences

This course is also available as: