Louis Gerdelan

Ph.D. Candidate Department of History Harvard University

2016 to 2017
Research Fellow

Calamitous knowledge: understanding disaster in the British, Spanish and French Atlantic worlds, 1666-1755

My project consists of an intellectual, scientific and cultural history of disasters between the Great Fire of London (1666) and the Lisbon Earthquake (1755). I seek to uncover the changes (and continuities) in contemporaries' interpretations of catastrophic events over this time period, in a comparative study embracing the British, French and Spanish Atlantic worlds. Using four key sets of sources (pamphlet accounts of disaster, scientific treatises and the private papers of scientists, sermons and histories) I will trace the changing contours of the discursive landscape of disaster knowledge and discussion, assessing the impact of both new scientific practices and ecclesiastical perspectives, as well as the evolving rhetoric used by pamphlet-writers to appeal to a popular audience. I expect this study to shed new light on the creation of expert knowledge about disasters and on the birth of our own disaster culture.