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Deja vu or jamais vu? – Bath Spa University

Déjà vu or jamais vu? How history and memory shapes responses to tropical cyclones in the longue durée in Mauritius

Wednesday 12 May, 2021 – Wednesday 12 May, 2021
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM


Part of the Hazard, Risk and Disaster (HRD) Research Lecture Series 2020-21.

Tropical cyclones have had a considerable impact on the people, environment and economy of Mauritius. Yet details regarding the impact of and response to past cyclones in Mauritian history are relatively scant and there is little known about the role of memory in responses to cyclones, either from a current or historical standpoint. This research examines past experiences and impacts of cyclones in Mauritius, as well as memories of historical cyclones and contemporary perceptions of cyclone vulnerability. The research draws from archive research, community interviews, and expert interviews. These methods are framed around a longue durée approach, combining elements of event and process with an analysis of historical discourses in an effort to uncover the long-standing and slowly changing relationships between people and extreme events.

The results uncover several repetitive patterns of responses, indicating that disaster impact and recovery is strongly conditioned by memory (or forgetting). Uncovering historical patterns in responses also reveals that cultural factors such as superstitions regarding cyclones and local knowledge-based warning signs play a considerable role in shaping the experience and creation of disasters in memory. Furthermore, institutional decisions made in the distant past (themselves shown to be shaped by memory) have determined the experience of cyclones and vulnerability in Mauritius over the long term and are connected to vulnerability today. The data therefore reflects the slowly changing patterns of responses and the role of cultural memory in disasters, both for communities and decision-making institutions, all of which act out over the long term.

About the speaker

Dr Rory Walshe is a post-doctoral research associate in the department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. His current research investigates social volcanology on the ERC project ‘IMAGINE’, working with communities and scientists to understand cultures and knowledges in volcanic areas. He was previously a PhD candidate at King’s College London and University College London.

Rory is a geographer and social scientist by training with a BSc in Disaster Management (Coventry) and an MSc in Climate Change and International Development (UEA). Rory’s expertise is in disaster research, disaster risk reduction and particularly the role of local knowledge, culture and long-term processes in community vulnerability and resilience.

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