HC441H - Volcanoes and Human History

Professor: Kathy Cashman

4.00 credits

CRN 12296: Monday & Wednesday, 2:00-3:20pm @ GSH 131

This course will introduce the topic of volcanology to non-specialists by viewing iconic volcanic eruptions of the past through the lenses of both the people who experienced these events and the scientists who studied them. In exploring this topic, we will take advantage of an emerging conversion of the fields of archaeology, anthropology, volcanology, climate science, history of geology, linguistics and folklore to view past events from multiple perspectives, focused particularly on the response of human societies to catastrophic events. This class should appeal to anyone who likes National Geographic disaster specials, who has wondered about the history, origin, and future eruptive potential of the Cascade volcanoes to our east and/or who is concerned about the broader impacts of climate change. Rather than following a linear narrative through time, this class will use individual eruptions to link descriptions of, reactions to, and explanations for eruptions separated in both time and space. In this way, the class will serve as a general introduction to the study of volcanoes while including cultural responses by interspersing volcanological readings with eyewitness narratives (including social media responses to recent eruptive activity), poetry, prose, historical documents, oral traditions, songs and art to provide a broad perspective of the ways in which disastrous volcanic eruptions have been not only been viewed by different cultures but also have shaped both the short-term and long-term adjustments of those cultures to living with volcanic activity. Unlike popular books on volcanoes and human history, which typically start with eruptions of antiquity and work forward to the present, I prefer to start in the present, where responses occur in a variety of easily accessible forms, and work back into the past of oral traditions and legends. This structure allows students to assess the metaphors used in modern eruption descriptions and to trace such descriptipons back through time. The class will use a hybrid lecture/seminar format, meeting twice per week.  Each week will focus on one or two ʻclassicʻ eruptions chosen with both science and culture in mind. The first class of the week will be in lecture format; here I will provide the volcanological context, introducing both characteristics of the eruption style and importance for the field of volcanology. The second class meeting of the week will be a seminar format, with individual students assigned to lead the discussion of selected readings. When appropriate, I will also use simple experiments to engage students in the eruptive processes and physics of volcanic eruptions.  Students will be graded on class participation and presentations, short responses to questions based on experiments and class discussion, and two longer papers (one in the first half of the class and one due during exam week).