Disastrous Pasts: New Directions in Asian Disaster History
Date : 21 Nov 2016 - 22 Nov 2016
Time : 09:15 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8, Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge Campus
Download Program and Abstracts

Organized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, with funding support from the Singapore Ministry of Education grant on 'Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia'.

The aim of this conference is to explore the role played by disasters in the history of Asia. It will adopt an interdisciplinary approach, appealing to historians, social scientists and natural scientists with an interest in events and trends in the history of disasters, and what past disasters can teach us about present conditions. The conference will address the following five key themes:

How did historic communities cope with disasters? Historic communities living in hazard-prone areas were not simply victims. They developed a range of social and cultural responses to the challenges they faced. This conference will consider the various forms of vernacular technology, coping strategies, and systems of environmental knowledge that helped communities to avoid disasters and ameliorate their consequences. It will also examine how such responses have been challenged, transformed or eroded by social, political, and environmental change.

How have perceptions of environmental hazards changed over time and varied between cultures? This conference will consider whether the concepts that dominate contemporary discourse, such as disaster, resilience and vulnerability, can be considered transhistorical and transcultural, whether they have historical equivalents, or whether they are the product of particular epistemologies and ontologies. We will consider whether the emergence of discourses, concepts, or shared cultural memories of disasters conditioned the policy decisions and technological interventions taken in particular historical periods. Did people always think of disasters as disastrous, and if not how did this affect their responses?

How can scholars develop cross-disciplinary dialogues to improve the understanding of disasters? Given the dominant contemporary discourse of anthropogenic climate change and the corresponding increased risk of nature-induced disaster, the impetus for expanding multi-disciplinary approaches has never been greater. However, the separation of many fields of research across the sciences and the humanities, as well as contemporary disaster risk management, can lead to problems in research, dialogue, and funding. A better synthesis between disciplines, researchers and users, is therefore critical for improving approaches to environmental disaster risk management today. This conference will explore the case for a cross-disciplinary approach to disasters, past and present.

How have environmental hazards interacted with famines in the history of Asia? The links between disasters and subsistence crises are both complex and controversial. Whilst popular representations tend to emphasise the role that hazards such as floods and droughts played in generating famines, social scientists and historians have tended to concentrate more upon economic and political causation. This conference aims to foster greater dialogue between disaster studies and famine studies, two fields that study similar historical processes from very different perspectives. It will examine the dynamic interactions between environmental and social systems that are responsible for generating subsistence crises.

How have epidemiological transitions and changes to public health influenced the outcome of disasters? Health crises – epidemics, pandemics, and epizootics - have been amongst the deadliest forms of disaster in human history. Furthermore, a large number of those who have died as a result of geophysical or climatic hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, and droughts, have succumbed to disaster-related diseases. This conference will explore the interaction between disasters and health in the history of Asia. We will consider how the mortality profile of disasters has changed over time, and how changing social and medical responses to health risks have influenced the humanitarian consequences of hazards.


Admission is free, and seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.


Prof Greg Clancey
Asia Research Institute, and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore
E | rcthead@nus.edu.sg

Dr Chris Courtney
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E |  arichc@nus.edu.sg

Dr Fiona Williamson
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E |  ariwfc@nus.edu.sg

Contact Person(s)
Valerie YEO