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Suggested Reading

A recent book that examines the evolution of how people thought about, and responded to, disasters in the English-speaking world, see Cynthia A. Kierner, Inventing Disaster: The Culture of Calamity from the Jamestown Colony to the Johnstown Flood (2019).

Wikipedia is a useful source of informative lists of calamities of various types: earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, and various other types of disasters.

There are many excellent case studies of disasters, as well as a growing body of scholarly literature that explores key issues and themes in the interdisciplinary field of Disaster Studies. The bibliography below, thematically organized, is by no means exhaustive.


Biel, Steven, ed.  American Disasters. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Hewitt, Kenneth.  Interpretations of Calamity: From the Viewpoint of Human Ecology. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1983.

Johns, Alessa, ed., Dreadful Visitations: Confronting Natural Catastrophe in the Age of Enlightenment. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Kierner, Cynthia A. Inventing Disaster: The Culture of Calamity from the Jamestown Colony to the Johnstown Flood. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

Knowles, Scott Gabriel.  "Lessons in the Rubble: The World Trade Center and the History of Disaster Investigations in the United States." History & Technology, 19 (2003): 9-28.

Kozak, Jan T., and Vladimir Cermák, The Illustrated History of Natural Disasters. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010.

Rozario, Kevin.  The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Solnit, Rebecca. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. New York: Viking, 2009.

Steinberg, Ted. Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Public Policy

 Davies, Gareth. "Dealing with Disaster: The Politics of Catastrophe in the United States, 1789–1861," American Nineteenth Century History, 14 (2013): 53-72.

_____. "The Emergence of a National Politics of Disaster, 1865-1900." Journal of Policy History, 26 (2014): 305-26.

_____. "Pre-Modern disaster Politics: Combating Catastrophe in the 1950s." Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 47 (2017): 260-81.

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998.

Milleti, Dennis. Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States. Washington: Joseph Henry Press, 1999.

Remes, Jacob A. C. Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016.



Davison, Charles. History of British Earthquakes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1924.

Dyl, Joanna L. Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco's 1906 Earthquake. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017.

Molesky, Mark. This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason. New York: Knopf, 2015.

Mulcahy, Matthew. "The Port Royal Earthquake and the World of Wonders in Seventeenth-Century Jamaica." Early American Studies, 6 (2008): 391-421.

Robles, Whitney Barlow. "Atlantic Disaster: Boston Responds to the Cape Ann Earthquake of 1755. New England Quarterly, 90 (2017): 7-35.

Valencius, Conevery Bolton. The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Walker, Charles F. Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, and Its Long Aftermath. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008.

Epidemics and Disease

Fenn, Elizabeth. Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Finger, Simon. The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012.

McNeill, J. R. Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Rosenberg, Charles E. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Slack, Paul. The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.

Worth, J. Estes, and Billy Gordon Smith, eds. A Melancholy Scene of Devastation: The Public Response to the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic. Canton, Mass.: Science History Publications USA, 1997.


Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn. "Tough Choices: Grappling with Famine in Qing China, the British Empire, and Beyond. Journal of World History, 24 (2013): 135-76.

Kinealy, Christine. The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology, and Rebellion. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Outhwaite, R. B. Dearth, Public Policy and Social Disturbance in England 1550-1800Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Baker, Meredith Henne. The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's First Great Disaster. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.

Mulcahy, Matthew. "The "Great Fire" of 1740 and the Politics of Disaster Relief in Colonial Charleston." South Carolina Historical Magazine, 99 (1998): 135-57.

Sawislak, Karen. Smoldering City: Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Simon, Bryant. The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives. New York: New Press, 2017.

Tebeau, Mark. Eating Smoke: Fire in Urban America, 1800-1950. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.


McCullough, David. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating Disasters American History Has Ever Known. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968.

Morris, Christopher. The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Murphy, Kathleen. "Virginia's Great Fresh of 1771 and the Politics of Disaster Relief." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 123 (2015): 298-323.

Parrish, Susan Scott. The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.


Horowitz, Andy. "The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror: Trauma, History, and the Great Storm of 1900." Historical Reflections, 41 (2015): 95-108.

_____. "Hurricane Betsy and the Politics of Disaster in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, 1965-1967." Journal of Southern History, 80 (2014): 893-934.

Johnson, Sherry. Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Mulcahy, Matthew. Hurricanes and Society in the Greater British Caribbean, 1624-1783. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Schwartz, Stuart B. Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Skilton, Liz. Tempest: Hurricane Naming and American Culture. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019.

Insect Infestations

Giesen, James C. Boll Weevil Blues: Cotton, Myth, and Power in the American South. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Lockwood, Jeffrey A. Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

Pauly, Philip J. "Fighting the Hessian Fly: American and British Responses to Insect Invasion; 1776-1789." Environmental History, 7 (2002): 485-507.


 Aldrich, Mark. Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828-1965. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Brockmann, R. John. Exploding Steamboats, Senate Debates, and Technical Reports: The Convergence of Technology, Politics, and Rhetoric in the Steamboat Bill of 1838. Amityville, N.Y.: Baywood Publishing Company, 2002.

Bronstein, Jamie. Caught in the Machinery: Workplace Accidents and Injured Workers in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Paskoff, Paul. Troubled Waters: Steamboat Disasters, River Improvements, and American Public Policy, 1821-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.

Puleo, Stephen. Black Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.