Research Progress on the Sea Islands Storm

After thoroughly searching for different sources involving the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893, I definitely agree with Dr. Shrout’s assessment that there is a lack of source material on the event. Most of the few secondary sources that speak of the event talk about what happened in South Carolina more than what happened off of the coast of Georgia. Many of the newspaper articles talk about the damage of the storm without going into depth about the social repercussions of the storm. As such, it is difficult to find information about how the elites dealt with the storm and their club on Jekyll Island. I still have not decided what my next plan of action is. I may look at the role of elites in natural disasters more generally, or I may look at hurricanes during the Gilded Age with a focus on social impact. I am also still a “baby” learning how to walk with more extensive research specifically in the field of History, so I am sure that my research skills are not the best. I am definitely frustrated with the lack of sources that I can find, and I am not used to having to widen the scope of a research project; I have always been so focused on narrowing the research topic. I am sure that as I begin to find resources talking about other natural disasters that relate to this one, I will gain more excitement about studying the topic, and I will be able to move passed my frustration.

The Effects of the Spanish Influenza on American Education from 1918-1920

Every year on Memorial Day students at my high school, Culver Academy, gather in the chapel to commemorate the students who lost their lives in American wars.  The list of names for World War I is always longest.  In 2009, my school was on lockdown because of the H1N1 virus that was apparently sweeping the nation.  Students did not have to go to classes if they did not feel comfortable doing so, and many students stayed shut in their own rooms for two weeks.  The Spanish Flu came up in passing in my biology class at the time, and I decided to do a little more research on the subject.

I found out that more people died of the Spanish Flu than as a result of WWI. This discovery left me with the question, were Culver students affected by the flu as well?  If so, why don’t we commemorate their lives?  What happened to Culver students in the midst of a pandemic?  I would like to know if and how the Spanish Influenza affected students, teachers, and administrators.  Did the flu affect some region more seriously than others?  Did it affect some types of schools more than others?  Did it affect universities more than grade schools?  Did it affect Davidson College?  Did this outbreak lead to any policy changes with regards to health in schools?  I think that journal entries could give me a look into attitudes towards the flu.  Contemporary newspapers could do the same and also provide information about which school records I should look into. Attendance records, payrolls, and school infirmary records would let me know how the influenza spread across campus.  Contemporary legislature could suggest if anyone attempted to make policy changes.  Medical journals, histories of education, books and articles about the Spanish Flu, and personal interviews might help me frame my research.

I have already started looking into some sources, and right now I am worried that I will not be able to find enough scholarly works to support an argument about education and the influenza.  Most sources that I find discuss the age groups and social classes of the people who were infected, but not how the influenza affected school systems, or even more broadly, how it affected any kind of existing government structure.  I wonder if this is a result of preoccupation with the War, or if I am simply looking in all the wrong places.  Before I go any further with this topic, I’d like to make sure I can find enough primary sources to make a claim about how the flu affected schools between 1918-1920.

A Faulty Fire (1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire)

            On April 18, 1906 around 5:15 am San Francisco was hit with a violent earthquake.  Following the earthquake was a great fire, the fire continued to burn the city for four days. Hundreds of people trapped in buildings were unable to escape. The disaster was a rupture of the San Andreas Fault, which had an epicenter near San Francisco. The severity of the earthquake was measured as an 8.25 on the Richter scale. However, aside from the earthquake itself what added to the destruction of the city was the fire that the earthquake ignited.  The destruction totaled over $350 million in damages, demolishing 25,000 buildings and killing hundreds and leaving 250,000 homeless. In the wake of this disaster much chaos ensued and crime became a large problem as a result. Crime and panic became such an issue that the Mayor gave a “Shoot-to-Kill” order for people who were found looting or involved in any unlawful acts.

         When looking to analyze the San Francisco earthquake and fire, we must ask a few questions to gain a better understanding of the situation. Response and relief efforts are always an aspect of how we measure the destruction of the disaster, so how did people react to the effects of the earthquake end the fire? Upper level officials are looked upon as leaders in events such as this, how did these officials organize and lead the people after the earthquake and fire? Another important question that can be looked at when analyzing the disaster, is how often did earthquakes occur in this region prior to April of 1906? By understanding this we can see how engineering of the city was tailored to the threats of earthquakes and after the earthquake of 1906 we can then ask, what were the major faults of building planning that led to greater ruin? Finally, while both the earthquake and the fire were natural disasters, were there ways in which the effects of the disaster could have been prevented? If so can we place blame on any person or group?

           The types of primary sources that would enable me to answer these questions include document statements released by political leaders such as the Mayor or Chief Police, as mentioned earlier I can further examine the Mayor’s “Shoot-to-Kill” order and what that meant to the city. Primary sources that can be looked at are any written personal eyewitness accounts of the event, a journal or a diary. Regarding the questions about crime, a primary source that could help to answer the questions would be any written police reports. On the Davidson College library account, there is a link that brings you to research guides and has access to newspapers of major cities dating back to the late 17th century. These newspapers can provide information to the reactions of the people and response efforts.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Its Role in Shaping a New California

Most estimates suggest that between 80 and 90 percent of San Francisco was ruined as a result of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and forced to make new homes elsewhere as the city was being rebuilt. I would like to focus my paper primarily on the refugee phenomenon that occurred as a result of the fire, and more specifically how the earthquake helped to shape a new San Francisco, and more generally, a modern California. Prior to the fire, San Francisco had been the largest city on the West Coast, but population growth and commerce stalled following the fire. I would like to examine the places that experienced growth in population and commerce following the fire, and how such growth would foreshadow what California looks like today. For example, Los Angeles experienced growth following the earthquake in San Francisco, yet LA is located near the same San Andreas Fault that caused the destruction of San Francisco. In examining movement and development across California following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, I would like to pay particular attention to the movement patterns of different socioeconomic classes—especially immigrants. I think immigrants are interesting to pay attention to in the case of California as immigrants make up such a large part of the population, and play such distinct roles within California’s society. In terms of time frame, I will mostly focus on the few years following the fire, but then acknowledge how things changed further down the line, and note any parallels that can be made between California just post-earthquake and California today. Lastly, I would like to touch on the rebuilding of San Francisco, because that is important in itself to the shaping of a new, post-earthquake California.

In terms of primary sources, census records and photographs will prove to be particularly helpful as they can reveal information pre-earthquake and post-earthquake. Newspaper and magazine articles will help in terms of understanding the degree to which homelessness impacted citizens of San Francisco and the surrounding areas, after the earthquake and fires. Perhaps such primary sources could also reveal where people went following the fire, and maybe even further difference in movements between different social classes and demographics. Popular sentiment could also be expressed through print articles, which could suggest why people were moving away from the Bay Area if that was the case, or why not, if they chose to stay in the area.

Down with the Robber Baron: Class Struggle through the Lens of a Gilded Age Disaster

Central to the analytical discourses surrounding disaster is the question of what role human action, or the products thereof, can and should play when considering whether or not a catastrophic event will be labeled a natural disaster. This tension arises out of the view that human agency, involvement, or culpability renders a disaster unnatural. However, it is impossible to avoid the structural elements that contribute to the severity of any disaster regardless of the perceived human role played in the event. In order to examine the relationship between structural elements and our perceptions of natural disaster, a case must be considered which contains a unique blend of natural occurrences and human interaction. That case study will be the sinking of the Titanic.

It is clear that human engineering, human oversight, and other structural considerations played a key role in the sinking of the Titanic. Thus, my first area of inquiry will concern the design and engineering of the ship. Who designed the Titanic? Who oversaw its construction? To what extent were they aware of the risks involved in building a ship of such grandeur? Why were the necessary precautions not taken to prevent the magnitude of deaths? This will allow insight as to the basic facts surrounding the ship and its safety as well as safety protocol. While technical information regarding the ship’s construction is one important physical element of the structures that exacerbated the sinking of the Titanic, the sociopolitical and socioeconomic composition of the ship played a role as well. Consider the time period in which the disaster was situated. This was a time of rapid expansion, industrialization, and class stratification as well.

Thus, my second line of inquiry will concern the socioeconomic composition of the ship. How many individuals from each class (lower, middle, and upper) were present on the ship? Was the number of deaths disproportionate in terms of class? If so, how were the deaths distributed among the classes? How was class articulated in terms of advertisement and on-ship accommodations? This will allow us to examine the socioeconomic structures that played a role in the exacerbation of the disaster. And, finally, to address the element of human perception, an examination of the narrative that was constructed in the wake of the sinking of the Titanic will be conducted. Therefore, my third area of inquiry will be about how the sinking of the Titanic was conceptualized at the time. What narrative is constructed regarding the sinking of the Titanic? What language is used? Is there a discussion of culpability, and if so what does that tell us about the time period?

In order to conduct this study, some of the primary sources that would be helpful in addressing the first line of inquiry are schematics of the ship, documents describing the ship’s precautionary planning, a list of individuals involved in the ship’s design and information on their backgrounds. Primary sources helpful in addressing the second line of inquiry are documents describing who purchased a ticket and boarded the ship, a list of survivors, advertisements for the ship, and a list of the accommodations that were made along class lines such as where upper class passengers were seated versus lower class passengers. And finally the primary sources needed to answer the third line of inquiry would be journals, newspaper clippings, letters, possibly even memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies from surviving passengers.

“Fire!” in a Theater: The Human Responsibility of “Natural” Disasters

Historical Background

900 audience members filled the Brooklyn Theater on December 5, 1876 to watch Kate Claxton and Harry S. Murdock perform The Two Orphans. Shortly after the performance began, a gaslight set fire to extra scenery behind the stage and soon spread throughout the theater. After an audience member shouted, “Fire!” and the management realized they did not have fire hoses or water buckets, or fire escapes from the balconies, chaos ensued. Some escaped, but 295 people met their deaths either by burns and smoke inhalation or being trampled to death. When firefighters were finally able to enter the building, they found bodies melted together and 100 victims were burned so badly they were unidentifiable. The city of Brooklyn remembers the victims through a 30-foot-high granite memorial.[1]

Historical Questions to be Asked and Examined:

While the lack of fire hoses, water buckets, and fire escapes may not have directly spread the fire, they also did not aid those seeking safety. Additionally, the minimal number of exits created a panic that caused a stampede. Therefore, I hope to investigate the extent of damage and deaths that resulted due to human planning. Unlike the Chicago Fire of 1871, which was amplified by the preceding dry season, the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876 occurred in a human constructed and monitored building. How many died at the hands of the fire versus the hands of panic and does this make it easier to place blame? Looking beyond this disaster, what was the role of the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876 in creating safety measures in public spaces, and fire precautions?

Potential Primary Sources:

One heading of the Davidson College history department’s research guide on the library website is called “U.S. newspapers: 18th-20th century, multi-title collections.” It lists four databases to search newspapers published during the 19th century. I think newspapers are the quickest and easiest way to understand how New York as well as cities that are not New York report this disaster as news, opinion columns, and images. In these articles, I hope to learn about sources of aid, sentiments about management, and comparisons to similar disasters. The history department’s research guide also lists book and pamphlet collections, which will take more time to review, but will provide more significant narratives. I have looked through the available diaries and journal entries, but none list matches for this incident.

After creating my collection of primary sources I will begin to rely on secondary sources that describe the safety measures taken by different theaters in comparison to Brooklyn Theater as well as safety measures established after this fire to help me determine if the Brooklyn Theater Fire was preventable.


[1] “This Day in History: December 5, 1876: Hundreds die in Brooklyn theater fire,” History.com, Accessed February 20, 2014, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hundreds-die-in-brooklyn-theater-fire

Fire and Brimstone: Religious Interpretations of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

As we have consistently seen, religion tends to have a significant impact on the interpretation of disasters. From Father Pernin’s narrative of the Peshtigo Fire, to the interpretation of the Chicago fire as cleansing, religious interpretations of disasters abound. Given both the often complex nature of disasters, coupled with the wanton destruction, disasters seem to almost request the meaning which religion may ascribe to them. Furthermore, disaster almost always inspires community unification and religion has often facilitated such unity.

I would like to examine a specific disaster and the religious response which it elicited from the community, on a local or perhaps wider scale. What were the religious or other interpretations of this disaster and its significance? How were interpretations of this disaster shaped by religious leaders and the religious community? How did religious disaster narratives shape the recovery from this disaster? How did the religious landscape change as a result of the disaster or the concomitant changes? In what ways were religious disaster narratives productive or counterproductive, in terms of rebuilding community in the wake of this disaster?

I think that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire might be particularly interesting to examine, for a variety of reasons. Foremost, the scale of the disaster, which was substantial, would have accentuated any effects that such a disaster might have on a populace or community. Yet, this alone does not distinguish San Francisco’s disaster from some others. Though fires were the most destructive element in this case, they were secondary to an earthquake, in terms of cause. Earthquakes present a particularly interesting disaster in that they are—much more than Mrs. O’Leary or her cow—open to religious interpretation. The trembling of the very earth beneath our feet lends itself to religious interpretation. Moreover, San Francisco in 1906 was a city of cultural clashing, with significant divides between the white and Chinese communities. Doubtless, such cultural conflict played out in the context of religious thinking.

Local and community newspapers will be a great source for this examination, especially if they cater to a specific religious community within the city. I do not, necessarily, need to limit myself to local newspapers but can look on a national and state scale as well, since those have potential to be sources of religious interpretation as well. Within newspapers, I expect editorials to be a particularly good source. Journals or correspondence, though rare, have the potential to be great sources of religious thinking or interpretation, especially that which people might not say publicly. Perhaps there are records of sermons that were given in the aftermath of the disaster or during the recovery that address the disaster in a religious context.

Blaming Forecasting for Inevitable Destruction

For my final paper I will be looking at the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 and analyzing how the lack of hurricane understanding combined with the extreme nature of the storm made this hurricane the single most destructive natural disaster in New England history.  In the modern era of data collection and meteorological study, the Northeast had no precedent or experience with hurricanes.  More accustom to snow and winter weather, this storm took forecasters, the entire country, and New Englanders by complete surprise. Truly the Great New England Hurricane was the perfect storm for such destruction.  Preoccupied by instability in Europe, the media underreported the potential power.  Meteorologists not only lacked hurricane forecasting equipment in the region, they incorrectly assured the region that the storm would not make landfall.  Finally, the hurricane acted unusually by taking unexpected turns, rapidly gaining speed, and somehow gaining power through colder water.  Therefore, my paper will explain how the entire region was unprepared due to coincidence and scientific failure. Many theorize that sole responsibility lies on poor forecasting, yet I believe that even if New England knew of the projected path, the storm was so powerful and the region was so inexperienced with hurricane reaction that nothing could have prevented the destruction.

As for sources, I have several secondary sources that intend I to research and a general idea for primary sources.  My focus will be on RA Scotti’s book Sudden Sea: the Great Hurricane of 1938.  This 2003 collection of newspapers articles, eyewitness accounts, and archival testimonial, will provide great primary sources.  Additionally, I intend to request titles like New York-New England Hurricane and Floods, 1938; Official Report of Relief Operations and A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane as two other books that focus on primary source accounts.  In preliminary research, newspapers like the New York Times, the Cape Cod Times, and the Hartford Times have shown good potential as well.  Finally, I intend to use recorded transmission from meteorologists and other testimonial from forecasters along the East Coast.  As for secondary sources, JSTOR and EBSCOhost both have limited selections of historical research about this specific storm, but there are many books available through WorldCat.  Historians and scientist have researched this hurricane from multiple angles, including the immediate reaction and response, so I should have no trouble compiling a historiography regarding my specific topic.

As I research there are several topics and question I intend to answer when narrowing my topic and thesis.  Looking at hurricane research and study during the 1930’s, I want to explore differences between forecasting in Europe, the Southeast, and the Northeast.  Additionally, I want to research a history of all Northeast hurricanes and see if any other storms produced the wind speed, storm surge, damage inland, or destruction throughout the entire region like the 1938 hurricane.  Finally, by researching testimonial of citizens along the coastline, I should be able to compile an understanding of expectations, preparedness, and consequences for future storms.  In answering these questions and topics I will prove that the New England Hurricane of 1938 was truly unique and that that while better forecasting would have minimized some damage, most of the destruction was inevitable.

Mulholland’s Mishap: The St. Francis Dam Collapse of 1928

In the late 1800s, Los Angeles created a massive irrigation project in the Owens Valley to provide water to the ever-growing metropolis. The project, under the leadership of civil engineer William Mulholland, was marred by controversy, including shady land dealings and the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, which resulted in the deaths of roughly 600 people in the Santa Clara River Valley.

Several important historical questions will guide my research:

  1. How did the urbanization of Southern California shape regional politics and the allocation of public resources?
  2. How did the political agendas of Los Angeles politicians influence public construction projects?
  3. How was responsibility allocated for the collapse at the St. Francis Dam?

My research will focus less on the effects and aftermath of the St. Francis Dam collapse and more the politics surrounding its construction as well as the sloppy engineering that led to its demise. I hope to examine sources that shed light on the California Water Wars of the late 19th and early 20th century, showing how the allocation of resources became a major political struggle. William Mulholland and his corps of engineers will also receive my scrutiny, as I hope to determine if their construction effort was based on a desire for political gain or public welfare and safety.

For my analysis, I will make use of Los Angeles public records, such as the purchase of land and waterways, irrigation plans and objectives, and the professional reports of engineers engaged in the project, focusing on the St. Francis Dam in Ventura County. As my work specifically follows William Mulholland, I will utilize any and all of his letters, journals, and reports from the 1920s and possibly earlier. Newspaper articles documenting the expansion of the irrigation project and the construction of the dam would also be ideal sources. Lastly, the critics of the Dam (or the irrigation project as a whole) may be able to provide interesting insight on the situation through their personal correspondence, public reports, and newspaper opinions.

‘Three-Sixty-One’: Myth, Memory, and the 1907 Monongah Coal Mine Disaster

For those who heard the blast at mines No. 6 and No. 8, the number three hundred sixty-one bore a personal significance. Indeed, for many, it was etched in their minds like the mines themselves, cut deep into the grassy hillside along the Monongahela River. It was etched into the mind of Catterina Davia, who in honor of her late husband, Victor, hauled coal from the lowest mines to her house at the top of the hill—four times a day for twenty-nine years. It was etched into the mind of the poet Louise McNeill, who honored the ‘Hunkies,’ the ‘Tallies,’ the natives, and the boys who perished at “ill-starred Monongah.” And it was etched into the mind of Reverend Everett F. Briggs, who faithfully preserved the memory of the ill-fated, immigrant miners, who travelled far across water to die deep underground. For these and others, however, three hundred sixty-one spoke as much to lives lost as to lives never found, the names left absent from the ‘three-sixty-one’ reported dead at Monongah.

For my research proposal, I intend to examine the ways in which the death toll from the 1907 Monongah Coal Mining Disaster was determined, falsified, reported, and preserved to influence relief efforts and to create the mythos of the Monongah disaster. From local gravediggers’ claims of six hundred twenty bodies to the Italian commemoration of over nine hundred deaths, from the embellished casualty report of Mayor W. H. Moore to Reverend Brigg’s estimate of over five hundred lost, the death toll is as significant to the Monongah narrative as the “one survivor” folktale and the runaway minecart that—in regional legend, at least—caused the explosion. In my own research, I hope to contribute to the long-standing narrative of Monongah as well as the recent scholarship that has emerged since the disaster’s centennial in 2007.

Three questions will guide my research: Who were in the mines on December 6, 1907? Who of these persons—if any—were missing from the death reports? And how were these unknown miners remembered?

In my research, I will rely on a collection of both primary and secondary sources. Though the recent scholarship of regional historians Davitt McAteer and Joseph Tropea is most relevant to my proposed topic, I will consult a much broader list of secondary source material, including—though certainly not limited to—works examining the contemporary coal mining industry, the regional histories of immigrant populations, the philanthropic and legislative responses to industrial disasters, and the social histories of coal mining towns. For primary sources, I will likewise consult a breadth of materials. To uncover which miners were listed among the dead, I will consult the records of the Monongah Mine Relief Commission and the Fairmont Coal Company. To understand how the death toll was reported, I will examine national and local newspaper articles detailing the disaster. And to analyze the ways in which unlisted miners were remembered, I will review the poems, stories, songs, and paintings of those who commemorated the disaster. Such research, I believe, will not only shed light on the Monongah disaster narrative, but further explain the significance of ‘three-sixty-one’ in the minds of those for whom Monongah bears a personal significance.

Works Consulted

Briggs, Everett F. “Mine Disaster.” Science 146, no. 3640 (October 2, 1964): 14.

Gunn, Angus M. “Monongah, Pennsylvania, explosion.” In Encyclopedia of Disasters:     Environmental Catastrophes and Human Tragedies, edited by Angus M. Gunn, 231-5.         Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

McAteer, Davitt. Monongah: The Tragic Story of the Worst Industrial Accident in US History.     Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2007.

McNeill, Louise. “Monongah (December 6, 1907, Marion County, West Virginia, on the Monongahela River).” In Hill Daughter: New and Selected Poems, edited by Maggie        Anderson, 93. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.

Rittenhouse, Ron. “Catherine Davia’s Memorial Mound of Coal, Monongah, 1907.” 1907. In       Italians in West Virginia, edited by Victor A. Basile, Judy Prozzillo Byers, 31. Charleston,        SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

Spignesi, Stephen J. “The 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster.” In The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time, edited by Stephen J. Spignesi, 216-9. New York: Citadel Press, 2002.

Tropea, Joseph L. “Monongah Revisited: Sources, Body Parts, and Ethnography.” West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies 7, no. 2 (2013): 63-91.

——. Review of Monongah: The Tragic Story of the Worst Industrial Accident in US History, by             Davitt McAteer. Appalachian Journal 35 (2008): 358-64.

“December 6, 1907: Monongah Twin Mines Disaster.” In West Virginia Disasters. Logan, WV:   The Logan Banner, 2003.