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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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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 27 October 2021

Disaster Nation

Disaster Nation

(p.133) 5 Disaster Nation
Inventing Disaster

Cynthia A. Kierner

University of North Carolina Press

Americans experienced changes in both the quality and quantity of disasters in the post-revolutionary era. On the one hand, they were increasingly vulnerable to new categories of calamities, as fires and epidemics proliferated in the growing cities of the early republic. On the other hand, they inhabited a print-saturated environment in which such episodes were widely reported and sometimes assumed national significance. Focusing primarily on Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemic in 1793 and fires in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Richmond, Virginia, this chapter addresses two related themes: how U.S. leaders envisioned the role of the state in disaster relief and how disaster stories contributed to the creation of an American national identity. It shows that by publicizing private philanthropic efforts that arose in response to disasters, print culture encouraged readers to see themselves as virtuous and charitable, even as their government rejected the British model of state-sponsored humanitarian aid, and that by chronicling the suffering of individuals, increasingly sensational accounts encouraged readers to see disasters as personal tragedies rather than public problems.

Keywords:   Congress, disaster relief, disease, fires, newspapers, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, N.H, Richmond, Va

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