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Sea of Storms

Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina

Stuart B. Schwartz
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    Sea of Storms
    Book Description:

    The diverse cultures of the Caribbean have been shaped as much by hurricanes as they have by diplomacy, commerce, or the legacy of colonial rule. In this panoramic work of social history, Stuart Schwartz examines how Caribbean societies have responded to the dangers of hurricanes, and how these destructive storms have influenced the region's history, from the rise of plantations, to slavery and its abolition, to migrations, racial conflict, and war.

    Taking readers from the voyages of Columbus to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Schwartz looks at the ethical, political, and economic challenges that hurricanes posed to the Caribbean's indigenous populations and the different European peoples who ventured to the New World to exploit its riches. He describes how the United States provided the model for responding to environmental threats when it emerged as a major power and began to exert its influence over the Caribbean in the nineteenth century, and how the region's governments came to assume greater responsibilities for prevention and relief, efforts that by the end of the twentieth century were being questioned by free-market neoliberals. Schwartz sheds light on catastrophes like Katrina by framing them within a long and contentious history of human interaction with the natural world.

    Spanning more than five centuries and drawing on extensive archival research in Europe and the Americas,Sea of Stormsemphasizes the continuing role of race, social inequality, and economic ideology in the shaping of our responses to natural disaster.

    Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5208-6
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
    Stuart B. Schwartz
  5. Chapter 1 Storms and Gods in a Spanish Sea
    (pp. 1-32)

    The wind began on Thursday, the last day of August 1552, and by Friday it had become a storm of powerful winds and heavy rain. The residents New Spain’s port of Veracruz were already accustomed to thenortes, strong north winds, brought by the cold front s of November and December that could reach a force of 80 miles per hour along the coast and in the bay, but this was different. By Friday night it had become a violent tempest blowing from the north, and then shifting, as one observer later testified, “from all the other points of the...

  6. Chapter 2 Melancholy Occasions: Hurricanes in a Colonial World
    (pp. 33-69)

    Between 1492 and 1550 Spain extended its control over the large islands of the Caribbean, completing the conquest of Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, exploring, raiding, and slaving, but not occupying the Bahamas (the so-called “useless islands”) and the Lesser Antilles (fig. 2.1). New Spain (Mexico) was brought under Spanish control in the 1520s and 1530s, for the most part. Yucatan took longer, but by the 1540s, despite pockets of Maya resistance, it too had been conquered, as had large areas of northern Mexico. To the north, Florida was explored from Puerto Rico in 1513, and competing attempts by...

  7. Chapter 3 War, Reform, and Disaster
    (pp. 70-109)

    The themes that characterize the Greater Caribbean in the eighteenth century are well known. The various European empires and states had staked out their claims in the region in the previous century, and each sought to create profitable colonies. Prior to the 1720s, only the Spanish colonies and their silver were valuable enough to merit the investment in major expenditures for defense or state involvement in development.¹ That situation changed considerably as a result of the expansion of the sugar economy in the Caribbean and the related explosion of the African slave trade to these colonies. Sugar (and to a...

  8. Chapter 4 Calamity, Slavery, Community, and Revolution
    (pp. 110-144)

    The years from the hurricane-prone decade of the 1780s and the creation of the United States (1783) to the independence of most of Latin America by 1825 and the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834 witnessed tremendous social and political upheavals in the Greater Caribbean. The French Revolution (1789–96), the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), the Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815), and a series of slave revolts, conspiracies, and maroon wars throughout the region disrupted commerce, altered sovereignties, and sometimes changed social relations. The growing movement in Europe for the end of the slave trade and the abolition...

  9. Chapter 5 Freedom, Sovereignty, and Disasters
    (pp. 145-191)

    With emancipation in the British West Indies in 1834 and the abolition of slavery in the French Antilles in 1848, the plantation system and slavery in the North Atlantic became concentrated in the U.S. southern states and the Spanish islands of the Caribbean. In the British and French West Indies the transition to free labor had followed a number of different trajectories influenced by political conditions, land availability, and world market prices. In Haiti, the revolutionary destruction of the plantation economies of the Old Regime, the former association of sugar, coffee, and other plantation crops with servitude, and the wide...

  10. Chapter 6 Nature and Politics at the Century’s Turn
    (pp. 192-225)

    The mid-nineteenth-century advances in communication brought about by the telegraph now made possible the dream of the weather watchers: simultaneous observations over widely separated distances and the creation of synoptic weather maps. These visions seemed to promise predictability. States could see the utility for agriculture, maritime commerce, and war that such a promise implied.¹

    The idea of sharing meteorological information had developed in the 1840s. In 1853 a ten-nation conference on maritime meteorology, attended mostly by naval officers, was convened in Brussels. In 1854, due in part to the work and urgings of Colonel William Reid, after his stay in...

  11. Chapter 7 Memories of Disaster in a Decade of Storms
    (pp. 226-271)

    During the first two decades of the twentieth century, while much of the Atlantic world was sliding into World War I and then recovering from it, the Caribbean was relatively spared by the great storms. Of course there were hurricanes throughtout these years, but after the roaring years of the 1890s culminating in the particularly heavy year of 1899, the year of San Ciriaco, the frequency of hurricanes diminished until the mid 1920s when a new cycle of more frequent storms began. Modern studies have suggested that the years just before or after an El Niño event in the Pacific...

  12. Chapter 8 Public Storms, Communal Action, and Private Grief
    (pp. 272-318)

    In September 1944, a tremendous hurricane first sighted northwest of Puerto Rico moved up the coast of the United States, battering shipping and shores from Cape Hatteras to Rhode Island. Only forty-six people on shore lost their lives directly from the storm, but among its victims at sea were two Coast Guard vessels and a Navy destroyer, which sank with the loss of 248 men. The damage on shore and to shipping was extensive, calculated at $100 million at the time (or over $1.2 billion in today’s currency), but the storm had been less dangerous than the 1938 New England...

  13. Chapter 9 Ancient Storms in a New Century
    (pp. 319-338)

    Hurricane Katrina, which battered Louisiana and Mississippi and inundated the city of New Orleans in 2005, was no anomaly. The most expensive disaster in the history of the United States (estimates between $81 and 125 billion) and with 1,833 directly caused fatalities (the most deadly storm since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane), it was the logical outcome of a long history of encounters between changing social and political concerns and the challenges presented by the geophysical conditions in the islands and rimlands of the Greater Caribbean. The themes that make up the narrative of Katrina’s tragic passage are the same that...

  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 339-340)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 341-392)
  16. Bibliography of Works Consulted
    (pp. 393-426)
  17. Index
    (pp. 427-440)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 441-442)