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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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Exploding Steamboats and the Culture of Calamity

Exploding Steamboats and the Culture of Calamity

Chapter:
(p.166) 6 Exploding Steamboats and the Culture of Calamity
Source:
Inventing Disaster
Author(s):

Cynthia A. Kierner

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469652511.003.0007

The reconceptualization of disasters as recurring phenomena that evoked meaningful public debate came only with the virtual epidemic of steamboat explosions that began in the 1820s. This chapter examines public response to steamboat explosions and the cumulative impact of hundreds of deadly wrecks on popular culture and public policy. Because of their frequency and horror, and also because they juxtaposed progress and destruction, steamboat explosions resonated deeply with Americans and figured prominently in the popular culture of the antebellum era. This chapter shows how pervasive representations of steamboat disasters, in both words and images, helped many Americans to imagine themselves as prospective victims of steamboat explosions. Creating an imagined community of shipwreck casualties, in turn, gave rise to public outcry that led to the first serious efforts on the part of the U.S. Congress to regulate private business corporations.

Keywords:   Congress, Franklin Institute, Lexington (steamboat), newspapers, popular culture, regulation, steamboats

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