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Welcome to the Disaster History Archive. This ongoing project is a collection of primary sources pertaining to disasters. This archive of images and texts was created by Professor Cynthia Kierner and her graduate and undergraduate students at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

There is no a single concise definition for the term “disaster.” Some experts favor quantitative measures—the number of fatalities or the dollar amount of property losses—as criteria for deciding whether an event qualifies for disaster status. Others argue that certain qualitative features—geographic scope, duration, length of forewarning and speed of onset—are disasters’ defining attributes. Aware of the complexity of this ongoing debate, this site broadly defines “disasters” as bad things that happen which result in substantial and unintended losses of lives and property. This definition encompasses both "natural" and human-made disasters--a distinction that most scholars reject as both facile and misleading--but it excludes catastrophic events that were intentional or foreseeable, such as mass shootings and military defeats.

Student-scholars from Mason contribute additions to the archive nearly every semester. We hope that you will return from time to time to watch our collections grow.