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Inventing DisasterThe Culture of Calamity from the Jamestown Colony to the Johnstown Flood$
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Cynthia A. Kierner

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469652511

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469652511.001.0001

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Catastrophe in an Age of Enlightenment

Catastrophe in an Age of Enlightenment

(p.69) 3 Catastrophe in an Age of Enlightenment
Inventing Disaster

Cynthia A. Kierner

University of North Carolina Press

The greatest European calamity of the eighteenth century, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake is often called the “first modern disaster” in part because of the vigorously rational inquiry into its causes, which informed a self-consciously scientific post-disaster rebuilding effort. Examining responses to the Lisbon earthquake (and to the seemingly related Cape Ann earthquake, which occurred in Massachusetts three weeks later), this chapter interprets these episodes as a cultural event that drew on both Enlightenment rationalism and ideals of sensibility to forge a modern culture of disaster in embryonic form. This chapter focuses on three key developments: the interplay between religious and scientific explanations for the earthquake, even among some clergy; its unusually rich popular culture, which included unprecedented numbers of visual representations and Voltaire’s Candide, along with widely circulated eyewitness accounts by merchants and sea captains; and the remarkable international relief effort to aid earthquake victims, which included significant and widely publicized contributions from King George II and the British Parliament.

Keywords:   Cape Ann, Mass, disaster relief, earthquakes, Enlightenment, the, George II, Lisbon, narratives, national identity, religion, science, sensibility

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