CfP: Behemoth of a Storm: Fifty Years After Hurricane Beulah

Amy M Hay's picture

Disasters, as one historian noted, make good history. Along with the dramatic moments of human peril, disaster stories connect us to the ways human beings exist at a particular moment. These stories reveal assumed or hidden understandings of the world, they make the everyday or commonplace visible in a new way. Disaster stories tell us about relationships of power, power wielded by individuals, organizations, governments, and by natural forces. Responding to disasters demands collaboration, while studying disasters inherently requires interdisciplinary expertise and approaches in examining their immediate and lasting effects, and in crafting better responses for the future.

Using Hurricane Beulah as a historical case study and integrating a humanities perspective, the natural and social sciences can determine the long-term effects of a natural disaster beyond simple economic calculations. Disaster response agencies can identify gaps and necessary technological fixes. Collecting the data from the disaster sets a baseline that engineers can build upon in shaping the constructed environment, while wind, wave, and rainfall numbers provide calculations for mathematicians and data for future planning. Disaster planners gain an understanding of the ways people experience catastrophic events. Although more commonly seen with the protection of indigenous environments, the conference proposed here seeks to erase the cultural/natural divide and integrate knowledge of the natural world with that of human culture. The factual and mythical history of Beulah not only tells stories of survival and rebuilding, it offers the opportunity to change the future stories when the next disaster happens.  

Central Research Questions include:

  1. What were the historical origins of Beulah both from a social and natural scientific perspective?
  2. How did Beulah shape the history of the region in terms of emergency response, history, culture, physical geography, and economy?
  3. What common folkloric narratives emerge in attempts to make sense of Hurricane Beaulah’s causes and consequences?  Do these narratives differ by social group, or do common intergroup themes emerge upon closer analysis?
  4. Taken together, do advances in the physical management of disaster and understanding of warning response, along with historical change and sensemaking, make the RGV population more or less vulnerable?
  5. What visual and audio representations of Beulah emerged in the aftermath of the disaster?
  6. What long term changes escaped scrutiny and/or remained uncaptured in economic calculations of loss? (eg disappearance of local fauna and flora).

The conference is sponsored by the Disaster and Environmental Studies Program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and will take place November 11-12, 2016 in McAllen, Texas. The deadline for paper proposal submissions is July 1, 2016. Notification of acceptance will be made by July 31, 2016. Individuals should submit paper abstracts of 300 words to:

Amy Hay at amy.hay@utrgv.edu Accepted applicants will receive information on accommodations and conference details in their confirmation email.

Please note: An NEH Collaborative grant application for support of this conference is pending. If awarded, there will be funds to defray travel, lodging, and per diem costs.