The United States of Disaster

Project #: 95
Name: Scott Gabriel Knowles (; 215-895-6764)
Department: History and Politics
Academic Area: Environmental Policy; History;Science, Technology, and Society; Policy Studies

Title: The United States of Disaster

Hurricane floods on the Jersey shore; wildfires in California; drought in Texas; chemical pollution in West Virginia--the United States is living in disaster. Disasters have become more common, more costly, and more central to American politics in the previous decade. With the long-term effects of decaying infrastructure, land development along our coasts and in wildfire corridors, and the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, the costs of disasters will go up before they go down. / / This book project surveys hazards across the United States, with chapters set in different sites at the front lines of disaster. The project will combine archival research over the previous half century to understand development patterns, local economic trends, local politics, and the history of disasters in the different focus sites. This archival work will be combined with interviews, in order to give perspectives of residents, scientists, and legislators. In the end, until we understand how we built ourselves into harm's way, we will never begin shaping effective public policy to combat disasters in our time. This book seeks to sketch out the history necessary to start serious conversations about the disaster challenges the nation faces in the 21st century.

Associated Independent Study:
This independent study will be built around readings in secondary and primary sources related to the recent history of disaster in the United States. We will look across disaster types (natural and technological) and focus attention on the ways that experts develop "disaster knowledge," and how this knowledge shapes (or does not shape) public policy.

Gained Experience:
Proficiency in recent environmental and technology policy, development of skills in primary source research (legal, journalism, maps), and working with interview materials. The student will also assist in the research for preparation of brief essays for popular publication, blog posts, archival collecting and annotation, and the development of a podcast series related to the disaster topic.

A book, with an accompanying set of popular essays, a blog, and a podcast.

The student will assist in all facets of primary source collection, as well as working to help collect and archive primary sources (including the aforementioned legal documents, articles, maps, and interviews).

Meetings will take place regularly on Drexel campus--much work will also take place individually in the library or wherever the student can obtain a connection to library databases. Some site visits may also be involved: New York City, Jersey Shore, and Troy, NY are possible, though not required (optional).

Weekly, TBD

Interview Availability:
April 22, 2014