When Disaster Strikes

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

Hurricane Katrina. The Indian Ocean Tsunami. The Lisbon Earthquake. The Black Plague. What are disasters, why do they happen, and how do we make sense of them? Are they Acts of God or the whims of Mother Nature? Who do we blame and how do we cope? This course is an introduction to a field known as "disaster studies." Drawing on many different perspectives from the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities, we will grapple with the question that everyone asks in the wake of a major catastrophe: what can we learn from disasters?

This course is centered around several case-studies of modern and historical disasters in different cultures. The focus is on recent disasters, but disasters in Classical Antiquity, Medieval Europe, Latin America, and Early Modern Japan are discussed as well. Through these case-studies, we will engage especially with the question what disasters mean: how do different cultures experience, and make sense of, disaster? We will try to define "disaster" through several disciplinary lenses, including sociology, geography, cultural anthropology, and history, and try to create a typology of disaster. We will examine a wide array of primary and secondary sources, including a novel, a philosophical treatise, a sailor's diary, academic articles, newspaper cartoons, and 1970s disaster movies. We will engage critically with these sources through a variety of exercises, including short response papers, in-class group discussions, and news reporting. Students will also work in groups to build their own disaster case-study.

This course has three main goals. First, our goal is to understand disasters: what are they, how do we define them, and how are they socially constructed. Second, the course is about examining cross-cultural experiences of disaster; students will gain valuable comparative insight into different cultures. Third, the course is an introduction to college-level thinking: by the end we will have become familiar and comfortable with academic standards of creative thinking and analytical writing so as to ease the transition from high school to college.

Prerequisites: None


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0801
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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