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Rationalizing Disaster: Assessing the physical, economic, and cultural impact of natural hazards in Luzon, 1645-1754

Findley, D. Maximillian (2020) Rationalizing Disaster: Assessing the physical, economic, and cultural impact of natural hazards in Luzon, 1645-1754. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This dissertation asserts historic natural hazards and the disasters they created are a potent and flexible analytical tool for studying the Philippine archipelago during the mid-colonial period (ca. 1640-1764). Historic hazards, because they occurred in the islands with sufficient regularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were not just discrete, disruptive events, but processes that acted over time. These hazards, when viewed as processes, illustrate how a colonial society altered and adapted itself to cope with prolonged disruptions. When comprehended as events, though, responses to individual natural hazards identify the central connections and tensions that defined the colonial Philippines at the moment of disruption.

Therefore, this dissertation employs both perspectives to study the physical, economic, and cultural impact of natural hazards in Spanish Luzon between 1645 and 1754, years defined by the most severe disasters experienced in the islands in their respective centuries. By treating each hazard that transpired in the 109-year period as separate events, the dissertation demonstrates how seismic and meteorological hazards threatened crucial assets of the Spanish Empire, including galleons, fortresses, and churches. The dissertation also identifies how individual hazards amplified the growing poverty of the Philippine colony in the seventeenth century.

By treating the same destructive events as a process, the dissertation shows the evolving responses of governing institutions—colonial administrators and members of the clergy—to natural hazards over time. These institutional adaptations are reflected in the ways narratives of disaster shared amongst the colony’s literate, Spanish elite changed between 1645 and 1754 to emphasize hazards’ capacity for destruction over their supposed metaphysical causes. Lastly, through case studies on folk magic and the creolization of Catholic festivals, the dissertation explores how Spanish soldiers and the colonized indigenous peoples of Luzon perceived natural hazards respectively.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
Supervisor(s): Warren, James, Christensen, Joseph and Warren, Carol
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