chapter  2
Cracks in the past: historical approaches to disaster research
Pages 13

History is a thing of the past – or is it? Since the earliest stages of its development, the historical discipline has found itself split between history as object (the past) and history as contemporary understandings of the past (historiography). This division is fundamentally complementary in that the one cannot be without the other; history is where the past and present meet. Total reconstruction of the past is not possible because of the present’s partial blindness due to lacunae in source material and bias of the interpreter. Rather, the historian creates a narrative based on (and not contradicting) the credible pieces of evidence that exist, using theories about the past that are necessarily grounded in present perceptions. In this chapter I argue that catastrophic events are particularly relevant and interesting to the historian, because sudden disruptions of physical and social structures typically create a lot of data to be subjected to analysis later. Disasters may thus be seen as cracks in otherwise impenetrable areas of the past.