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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

7 - Past and Present

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Summary

Chapter 7 explores the links between disasters past and present. It first examines disaster history in the ‘Anthropocene’, considering how human–environment interactions – and hence the study of disasters – differ from the past. It then takes a twofold perspective, exploring the potential of historical research for better understanding disasters and, on the flipside, the potential of disasters for historical research. We review historical approaches that seek to improve our understanding of disaster management in the present – recognizing that most approaches have so far come from outside of the discipline of history. We then explore three areas where historical research can contribute: first, in analyzing the historical roots or path-dependent forces shaping present-day disasters; second, in analyzing the evolution and functioning of institutions within certain social contexts; and third, in asking whether history can teach us how to ‘escape’ from disaster. The section on the potential of disasters for historical research considers how disasters – as tests at the extreme margin of society – can act as a window into aspects of society that may otherwise escape the eye. The chapter concludes by suggesting where disaster history may go in the coming years.