The modern American approach to disaster is a cultural construction, a product of the period that historians define loosely as the modern era. When disaster strikes, people search for causes, assess culpability and costs, commiserate with victims (both as individuals and as a more abstract collective), and initiate various sorts of private and public relief efforts. Inventing Disaster traces the historical origins of this modern culture of disaster to three inter-related developments: the spread of information via trade, travel, and print; new Enlightenment ideas about science and human agency; and growing appreciation for the capacity to respond to the suffering of others with heartfelt emotion and benevolence, a quality known as sensibility. The book's introduction describes the modern culture of calamity and gives an overview of the chapters' contents, situating this study in both the cultural history of the Atlantic world and in interdisciplinary field of Disaster Studies.
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