How important are disasters caused by environmental phenomena for historians? Prof. Domenico Cecere tried to answer this question during a lecture for the students of the PhD course in Historical Studies of the Universities of Florence and Siena which was held online on 18th February 2021.
The speech, entitled Environmental calamities in the Early Modern Age. The management of risks and emergencies from an interdisciplinary perspective was organized in three broad and interrelated themes: natural disasters in the modern era, the interdisciplinary research project DisComPoSE and some exemplary case studies, drawn from the personal research experience of the professor.
Prof. Cecere began by talking about the importance assigned to natural calamities by historiography. He demonstrated the need to overcome some stereotypes that have long been dominant among historians, at least in reference to the societies of the ancient regime, and then explained which sources may have reinforced these stereotypes and how a new reading of those same sources can lead us to innovative interpretations.
“The sources used by the historian arise in a situation characterized by certain relations of power between groups and institutions. For this reason, the study of political communication is extremely important to interpret these sources”, explained the professor, describing the opportunities offered by collaborative research carried out by scholars with different disciplinary competences, such as those in the team that he coordinates.
He also focused on two case studies drawn from different contexts and analyzed with different conceptual tools and cognitive objectives: the first taken from an American territory of the Spanish Monarchy in the late seventeenth century which allowed the reconstruction of the dynamics of communication and networks of information of that time; the second related to Calabria in the late eighteenth century, which allowed the audience to pass from the level of communication to that of the elaboration of institutional responses.
The objective of the historian who studies natural disasters thus emerged clearly: it consists in reading the policies and practices of emergency management as the result of different elaborations and representations of the natural event, through the interaction between different social and institutional actors.