This course will examine natural disasters in the context of East Asian history, with the goal of teaching students the tools used by social scientists. Students will be asked to: (a) analyze historical and ethnographic data on natural disasters in East Asia; and (b) assess the influence of class, ethnicity, education, and power on the making and outcome of these natural disasters. The course ultimately hopes to encourage students to think of "natural" disasters as "social" phenomena that demand better social responses.
In recent years the world has witnessed an unprecedented level of destruction caused by a series of devastating natural disasters. They have leveled entire cities, taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and displaced even more. These events have stoked the popular imagination with dramatic images, the global media has come to depict hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and most recently the tsunami that hit northeastern Japan as the work of an unpredictable, uncontrollable, and essentially chaotic force. Although true in some respects, this way of understanding earthquakes, tsunamis, and other events tends to obscure the social, political, and historical side of these so-called “natural” disasters. When, in fact, did we begin to regard these events as the work of “nature” as opposed to, say, God or some other supernatural agency? On what basis do we classify a certain event as a “natural” disaster? Can we ignore the influence of class, ethnicity, education, and power on the making and outcome of these disasters? This course will bring these and other questions to bear on the historical and comparative study of natural disasters in East Asia.
Readings include both primary material in translation and secondary scholarship. 1 quiz (map quiz, multiple choice, fill in the blanks), 3 response papers (2,000-2,500 words each), 1 peer-review paper (1,300-1,500 words), 1 reading journal, 1 in-class presentation, and participation.
All undergraduates, especially those who want to take more courses in Asian Studies. There are no prerequisites for this course, but some background in the history and culture of East Asia is recommended.
This course will meet twice a week. Each week will consist of two lectures and short in-class discussion.