Catastrophes, Cultures & the Angry Earth

Subject 800-122 (2008)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2008. Search for this in the current handbook

Credit Points: 12.500
Level: Undergraduate
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2008:

Semester 2, - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable

Two fifty minutes lectures and one fifty minute tutorial per week.

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: Two 50 mintues lectures per week and One 50 minute tutorial per week.
Total Time Commitment: 36 contact hours per semester;
30 hours of class preparation and reading per semester;
30 hours of assessment-related tasks per semester;
108 hours total time commitment per semester;
9 hours total time commitment per week
Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Student Support and Engagement Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Overview, Learning Outcomes, Assessment and Generic Skills sections of this entry.

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. Students who feel their disability may impact on meeting the requirements of this subject are encouraged to discuss this matter with a Faculty Student Adviser and Student Equity and Disability Support:


Dr J Charles Schencking
Subject Overview:

This subject will change the way you look at society, nature, and the built environment. Using natural disasters as revealers or windows into the past and the present, this subject will compel participants to think critically and creatively about fundamental relationships in society: What makes a natural phenomenon such as an earthquake or a cyclone a natural disaster; how have people interpreted disasters and what does this tell us about our relationships with religion, science and technology; how have disasters been portrayed or represented in art, literature, and the media and for what interpretative ends; how have disasters and reconstruction processes been used by opportunistic leaders or non-governmental agencies to redevelop landscapes and remake societies; can we successfully mitigate against disasters through civil defense or preparedness or should we simply try to live in unison with our environment; do disasters cause greater damage to those most vulnerable in society, children, women, minorities and if so why? By focusing on four case studies from around the globe from 1700 to the present, this subject will cross cultures, disciplines, and time, and demonstrate how disasters and catastrophes are cultural constructions that reflect and reinforce yet sometimes overturn our understanding of nature, science, society, and the cosmos. The four cases studies are: the North American Cascadia Earthquake of 1700, The Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 which destroyed Tokyo, The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004; and Hurricane Katrina that destroyed New Orleans in 2005.

Assessment: 1. One 2,000 word research essay in which each student must use at least three mediums (art, literature, music, historical document, artifact, scientific data, survivor account, media representation etc) and demonstrate how a major natural disaster from 1700 onward has been interpreted, explained, uncovered, and represented. Moreover, students will be required to develop and persuasively argue how the natural disaster they have chosen has been managed, used, or manipulated, by whom, and for what larger social, political, and ideological ends.

This essay is to be developed and assessed in stages.

Stage One: A Research Essay Proposal (worth 10% of the total mark for the subject) in which students must introduce and submit their research question, hypothesis, and key inter-disciplinary source material.

Stage Two: A five minute presentation of the key aspects of their Research Essay Proposal in front of their tutors and small group peers. (worth 10% of the total mark for the subject).

Stage Three: A 2,000 word research essay developed from the Research Essay Proposal and presentation (worth 40% of the total mark for the subject).

2. One two-hour final exam held during the examination period (worth 40% of total mark for the subject)

Prescribed Texts: A subject reader prepared by the coordinator
Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Biomedicine
  • Bachelor of Commerce
  • Bachelor of Environments
  • Bachelor of Music
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Engineering

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

Upon completion of this subject, graduates will be expected to:

  • possess in-depth, specialist knowledge of how natural disasters have been explained, interpreted, and used over time and across cultures
  • be able to examine and evaluate critically and creatively knowledge pertaining to natural disasters across a wide range of academic discipline
  • reach a high level of achievement in writing, research activities, problem-solving, and communication
  • be critical and creative thinkers with the skills and confidence to persuasively articulate ideas, opinions, and research findings based on evidence
  • develop a strong sense of intellectual integrity and the ethics of scholarship
  • develop the capacity and confidence to effectively participate in active, engaged, and collaborative learning
  • develop excellent interpersonal, research, evaluation, and decision-making skills
  • develop as a well-informed citizen better able to contribute to their community

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