Disturbances, Accidents and Disaster. The Emergence of a Concept.

This study (work in progress) seeks to trace the emergence of the multifarious concept of natural disaster in the burgeoning published science of the second half of the seventeenth century, particularly in the Royal Society’s innovative Philosophical Transactions.

Exploring how the Philosophical Transactions, as repositories of what we might call cutting-edge investigative practice, addressed the occurrence of events that are today labelled « extreme, » may be useful in generating a foil to parallel literary processes, allowing insight into potentially osmotic pressures, identifying – in terms of the representation of natural disaster – who or what informed whom and what, and how. Adopting 21st century benchmark definitions, however wide-ranging, of terms like “natural”, « extreme », and « disaster” and using these to conceptualize the emergence of the natural disaster concept in the Philosophical Transactions – might constitute methodological entry into the bulk of the archive.  As well as considering the articles themselves, another data set may also be taken into account in literature-content analysis – the Philosophical Transactions were divided up into Volumes, and a Preface opened each of these. These prefaces could also then be discursive spaces in which concepts of extreme events, disaster and disturbance emerge.

For this Round Table discussion, in order to test these methodologies, I have focused on the first Volume of Transactions which covers the initial two-year period (1665-1666). Ensuing research would look at the emergence of the concept, in the above terms, in more than 350 years of material as the notion seemingly continues to lack semiotic cogency even today.

Sandhya Patel (Université Clermont Auvergne)


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