EAUH Conference 2018


Session M07. Natural Disasters and the Urban: Earthquakes, Floods and Great Fires in Early Modern Cities 1400-1800

Coordinators: Domenico Cecere (, Matthew Davies (, Mina Ishizu (, Koichi Watanabe (

This session asks how early modern cities were shaped by the impact of natural disasters and interactions between humans and the environment. The session will showcase cross-disciplinary research papers relating to earthquakes, urban floods and great fires in the early modern period that are informed by insights from disciplines such as history, climate studies, archival document-based research and archaeology. It draws on three main strands of research. First, engagement between urban historians and environmental historians, which informs studies of the historical development of cities, urban societies and cultures. Second, the contemporary environmental context where dialogue between historians and disaster/environmental studies informs understanding of the impacts on cities and inhabitants in the context of climate change. The role of the environment as ‘actor’ is increasingly part of historical discourse, interlinked with human agency - for example in the development of water systems and responses to flooding. Third, the flourishing dialogue between cultural and historical traditions concerning the history of disasters: in Japan and elsewhere distinctive historiographies have been shaped by the frequency and endemic nature of disasters; ‘episodic’ disasters in western Europe have been seen as interruptions or sometimes paradigmatic moments in city histories. There is much to be gained from dialogue between these perspectives and the historiographical priorities given to certain types of impacts or responses to disasters in historical cities. A comparative and/or transnational perspective is needed as natural disasters are transcultural phenomena to a certain extent confronting people in different civilizations with similar hazards. Research shows that different patterns of coping with disasters coexisted in the early modern period: societies drew on different types of cultural resources to survive and recover. The session seeks to benefit from cross-disciplinary research and insights from disciplines such as climate studies, urban history and archaeology.

As well as studies of individual cities the organisers encourage interdisciplinary and/or comparative papers. We especially invite papers which deal with one or more of these questions:

• How have early modern cities and inhabitants responded to natural disasters?
• What have been the roles of knowledge/memory in responses?
• Did preventative strategies reflect visions of how early modern cities should function?
• How did early modern disasters shape societal engagement with and understanding of climates and environments?
• How have individuals and groups used cultural forms to understand disasters?
Keywords: resilience; environment; disaster; cities; early modern; governance; culture