For a variety of reasons, however, learning from past disasters is more difficult than it seems. Based on intensive research on the history of flooding, this chapter challenges the widely held notion that history (or rather, the multiple uses of history) indeed acts as magistra vitae. Instead, it argues that the complex ways in which societies deal with extreme natural events over time (and this is what learning from disaster is all about) can be understood more as the development of a socio-ecological system rather than as a linear stimulus-response relationship. Nature and society have co-evolved over time and they are connected and intertwined in various ways. From this perspective, “learning” appears as a special case of this co-evolution that takes place within very limited boundaries. The goal of this contribution is not to
show that learning from past natural disasters is impossible (it certainly is not) but rather to delineate the constraints and boundaries of environmental learning (cf. Wynne 1992).