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“Disasters in History: The Philippines in Comparative Perspective”

Dr Greg Bankoff, Professor of Modern History, University of Hull, the United Kingdom, delivered one of two keynote addresses titled “Exploring the Limits of the Filipino Past: Toward a More Trans-environmental History of the Philippines.” Dr. Bankoff argued that Philippine history must become transenvironmental, which should situate the archipelago and its peoples within the wider contexts of the risks that natural hazards pose for human activity. These hazards are associated with the violent histories of repeated dislocation, destruction, and death from natural forces that know no geographic boundaries.

Dr Gemma Narisma, Department of Physics, School of Science and Engineering, Ateneo de Manila University, delivered the other keynote address on “Global Warming and Extreme Weather Impacts in the Philippines since the Early Twentieth Century.” TOWN awardee and atmospheric scientist Dr Narisma showed the dramatic increase in global warming and its impact on the weather systems experienced in the Philippines at present and in the foreseeable future. Both keynote addresses were warmly appreciated.

Throughout the two-day conference, twenty-two papers were presented by participants from the following universities in the Philippines—the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines (Diliman and the Visayas), and University of Santo Tomas—as well as overseas— Kobe University, Kyoto University, Hiroshima Institute of Technology, Murdoch University, Seikei University, Senshu University, and University of Namur. Enriching the diversity of topics were the presentations by an architect of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and meteorologists from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

The presentations covered the histories of various disasters brought about by earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, drought, and other natural hazards as historically experienced by various groups, classes, and communities in the Philippines and other parts of Asia Pacific. Based on new research and perspectives in the study of disasters the papers offered comparative perspectives on how different societies with differing levels of vulnerability have prepared for, confronted, experienced, and moved on from disasters in different historical periods.

Distributed in six panel sessions, the papers covered the following general topics: observatories, historical data, and information flows; natural hazards and social inequalities; literary, linguistic, and theological perspectives; community responses to disasters, Metro Manila and disasters; social memories and cultural heritage; and the science of weather patterns and natural hazards. The abstracts of these papers may be found in the downloadable file below.

At the close of the conference, Dr Bankoff synthesized the significant issues that emerged from the presentations as well as gaps in the discussion. He stressed that disasters have always been politicized, and this is an area that needs further study. He emphasized that environmental history should be relevant to the present, especially in view of climate change, which is a social event also, and there is a need for mechanisms to arrive at a better integration of social science and natural science data.

The conference was a fitting start to a conversation across diverse fields of study and the participants expressed the need for this conversation to continue.

1880 Manila Earthquake