Disaster memory and ‘banished memory’. General considerations and case studies from Europe and the United States (19th-21st centuries)

Rohr, Christian (17 June 2021). Disaster memory and ‘banished memory’. General considerations and case studies from Europe and the United States (19th-21st centuries) (Unpublished). In: Dealing with Disasters: Cultural Representations of Catastrophes. Nijmegen (via Zoom). 17.-18.06.2021.

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In 1981, German medievalist and cultural historian Arno Borst provided an early case study of an extraordinary natural disaster in his essay “The earthquake of 1348” (published in German in the renowned “Historische Zeitschrift”). In this article, he put forward the thesis that today’s societies in Europe have largely eliminated dealing with natural disasters from their everyday lives, and that they have become a “society of banished memory” (in German: “Katastrophenverdrängungsgesellschaft”). This is in contrast to pre-modern societies, which have integrated the risk of fires, natural disasters, weather anomalies, etc. far more into their everyday lives. Indeed, in many societies that are exposed to recurring natural risk, “cultures of disaster” (Greg Bankoff) can be identified, be it “flood cultures” on the rivers of Central Europe and on the North Sea coast in the pre-modern era or “earthquake cultures” in the Mediterranean area. Numerous forms of memory were omnipresent in these cultures as a form of “mental prevention”, from clearly visible flood marks to house chronicles about avalanches. With the “taming” of natural hazards through river straightening and protective structures of all kinds, especially since the 19th century, small and medium-sized events have generally been avoided, but then serious events occurred even more surprising by hitting the population unpreparedly. A prolonged absence of extreme events, a “disaster gap” (Christian Pfister), could thus significantly increase the catastrophic nature of a new event. The belief that technical precautions could be used to get a grip on natural hazards was shaken in many places towards the end of the 20th century. This keynote lecture analyses selected flood, avalanche, storm and earthquake events from Europe and North America (late 19th century to present) to show, which factors might have contributed to a reshaping of memory cultures after catastrophic events and which even strengthened a behaviour of banishing memory against better judgement.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)

Division/Institute:

06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History

UniBE Contributor:

Rohr, Christian

Subjects:

900 History
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 970 History of North America

Language:

English

Submitter:

Christian Rohr

Date Deposited:

15 Jul 2021 11:05

Last Modified:

15 Jul 2021 11:05

Uncontrolled Keywords:

disaster memory, floods, avalanches, hurricanes, Alps, USA

BORIS DOI:

10.48350/156972

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/156972

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