Curating crises: the past as a key to improving the stewardship of hazard knowledges for the future

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


Our joint project is called 'Curating Crises'. It brings together teams from the Caribbean (Seismic Research Centre, University of the West Indies, and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory) and the UK (University of East Anglia, University of Oxford, the Royal Society and The National Archives), and focuses on the histories of volcanic crises in the Caribbean.

In the past, environmental crises (like volcanic eruptions, or earthquakes) were seen as an opportunity by European scientists to 'drop in', make measurements, gather samples and return home to share their knowledge with other European scientists. This colonial history has left two legacies. First, while there are detailed reports of some of these past crises in European libraries, museums and archives, a lot of this information is only accessible to people who are able to visit in person. Second, the importance of local observers, and the value of their observations, has often been overlooked, or forgotten.

Our project will change both of these things.

We will use digital techniques to scan and share the records of these past events. We want to share these hidden histories with the communities whose history this is - the communities who lived through these events, and who may be exposed to similar events in the future. We will use these past events to think about the best way to respond to future environmental crises by working together, or by working in new ways. We will also uncover the stories of the local observers, and of the knowledge that they helped to create, and share and celebrate these pieces of environmental history with communities in the Caribbean and the UK.

Our project will last 13 months. We will study events in three volcanic islands of the Caribbean: St. Vincent, Montserrat and Dominica, from 1890 - 2000. This includes several major eruptions (1902, 1979; St Vincent; 1995- Montserrat), and earthquake activity (1934-1939, Montserrat). It covers a period of time when all three islands started as British Crown Colonies; and two later became independent nations. We will also look at the way that observations and measurements have changed through time - and see how 'remote' observations, for example from satellites, or measurements by networks of automated instrument have changed the ways that data are shared, interpreted and stored.

By the end of our project, our findings will help us to work out the best ways to investigate these and other examples of 'hidden histories', and will give us new ideas for ways that we can work together to understand the environment.


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