The Lisbon Earthquake In 1755: Contested Meanings In The First Modern Disaster

Dynes, Russell R.
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Disaster Research Center
Some disasters are considered more important than others with similar impacts. The meaning of a particular disaster occasion is created independent of its consequences. Where there are significant inconsistencies between the impact and the meaning associated with it should be of interest to the social sciences. "The focus here is the Lisbon earthquake, Nov. 1,1755, which can be considered the First "modern" disaster. It evoked a coordinated state emergency response as well as a forward looking comprehensive plan for reconstruction which included mitigation efforts to reduce future disaster effects. Of particular interest here are the circumstances which led to the earthquake being attributed to "natural" rather than "supernatural" causes. Prior to that, earthquakes traditionally had been interpreted as a dramatic means of communication between gods and humans. In particular, such events previously had been explained as indicating some disturbance between earthly and heavenly spheres. The Lisbon earthquake can be identified as a turning point in human history which moved the consideration of such physical events as supernatural signals toward a more neutral or even a secular, protoscientific causation.
Libson Earthquake , Disaster