Cultural responses to disasters
This programme, an innovative collaboration between the sciences and humanities, was designed to strengthen resilience to disasters in the Eastern Caribbean.
It explored the ways in which culture and storytelling can better equip communities to respond to catastrophic events.
Focusing primarily on the volcanic island of Saint Vincent, this field site is dominated by La Soufrière, one of the most active volcanoes in the Caribbean region that has experienced six significant eruptions in just over two hundred years.
This project set out to better understand the role storytelling and narrative play in shaping memory and cultural responses to volcanoes and other disasters.
UEA experts worked as part of an international multidisciplinary team with communities in the Caribbean islands of Montserrat and St Vincent. Through workshops and interviews, we learned that stories told about these events contain vital knowledge and deepen our understanding of people living in areas of high risk.
Cultural responses to volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters also contain powerful knowledge about event impact, response and recovery. This knowledge can help to reduce risks and improve safety programmes, resilience, readiness and responses to future catastrophic events.
We worked with people from across both islands to co-create ‘Disasters Passed’, a mobile exhibit for education programmes in St Vincent, alongside the Seismic Research Centre, The University of the West Indies, and the National Emergency Management Organisation.
Moreover, we also produced the website and sister exhibit ‘Mountain Aglow’. Both creatively share these cultural responses and resources, acting as an inclusive means to enhance communities’ agency in disaster readiness and recovery.
A secondary exhibit called ‘Nest’ was created for UK audiences, designed both to share memories of the eruption and act as a vehicle to bring lessons from the crisis to policymakers. We’ve also produced resources that highlight transformative experiences to inform policy and disaster response at an international level.
The project brought together an interdisciplinary UEA research team that combines experts in Volcanology, International Development and American Studies.
Importantly, we worked with community representatives to ensure a holistic approach to the local impact of disasters. We brought together several constituencies with a series of community workshops to design exhibits that reflected what is most useful to people living in the shadow of volcanoes.
Our team worked closely with a range of partners, including those responsible for risk monitoring and disaster management in Monserrat and St Vincent. Alongside the aforementioned, we also worked with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, Montserrat Red Cross, British Red Cross and the Overseas Development Institute.
No one member of this international team could have managed this on their own. The absolute key here is collaboration and the sharing of ideas across experiences.
We aim to expand the reach of this research through instigating and supporting educational programmes across the Caribbean.
For example, in partnership with Dr Yvonne Weekes at the University of the West Indies, we co-created ‘Disaster Matters’, an interdisciplinary anthology for schools across the region. This combines contemporary Caribbean writing about hazards, such as volcanic eruptions, with scientific information about these phenomena. It will be used as part of the English, Geography and Social Studies curricula in schools across the region.
UEA project team
- Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo (International Development)
- Professor Jenni Barclay (Volcanology)
- Dr Wendy McMahon (American Studies)