Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mark M Smith


Using three major American hurricanes in three different centuries, this dissertation focuses on how disasters came to be defined and relief efforts codified in American culture and society. The study examines the 1752 hurricane, the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893, and Hurricane Hugo in 1989 in the context of human agency, or how human actions defined the scope and scale of each disaster. First recognizing the distinct context of each disaster, each hurricane is compared in terms of damage to natural and built environments, impact on the human population, recovery efforts undertaken, and the outcomes of these measures.

DISS_para>Also explored in the context of the three hurricanes is the role of community, expressed in a common understanding and practice of benevolence toward those in need. Communities operated on a national level, arriving at a common understanding among Americans over time of what constituted a disaster, and how those crisis situations would be met through either individual benevolence or local, state, and federal assistance.

Communities also functioned at the local level. In disaster situations communities leveraged resources, sustained those in need, and coordinated disaster recovery efforts. Communities also, however, reflected existing social stratifications. At times community leaders reinforced existing vulnerabilities of race, class, gender, and other distinctions through inequities of disaster relief efforts or an unwillingness to recognize need.


© 2011, Rebecca Cowles Swanson