Friday, April 29, 2016

Remes's "Disaster Citizenship"

Jacob A. C. Remes, an assistant professor of public affairs and history at the Metropolitan Center of SUNY Empire State College, has published Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era, with the University of Illinois Press:
A century ago, governments buoyed by Progressive Era–beliefs began to assume greater responsibility for protecting and rescuing citizens. Yet the aftermath of two disasters in the United States–Canada borderlands--the Salem Fire of 1914 and the Halifax Explosion of 1917--saw working class survivors instead turn to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members for succor and aid. Both official and unofficial responses, meanwhile, showed how the United States and Canada were linked by experts, workers, and money. In Disaster Citizenship, Jacob A. C. Remes draws on histories of the Salem and Halifax events to explore the institutions--both formal and informal--that ordinary people relied upon in times of crisis. He explores patterns and traditions of self-help, informal order, and solidarity and details how people adapted these traditions when necessary. Yet, as he shows, these methods--though often quick and effective--remained illegible to reformers. Indeed, soldiers, social workers, and reformers wielding extraordinary emergency powers challenged these grassroots practices to impose progressive “solutions” on what they wrongly imagined to be a fractured social landscape.
“A striking juxtaposition of the hierarchical order of experts and vernacular order created by victims themselves, Remes's finely grained comparison of two major turn-of-the-century disasters in Halifax and Salem represents a major contribution to our understanding of the dynamics and effects of spontaneous order in a crisis. Meticulously researched, gripping, and important.”--James C. Scott, author of Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

“In his meticulously researched and intelligently argued book, Disaster Citizenship, Jacob Remes has advanced and perfected the kind of deep social history pioneered by Herbert Gutman and Linda Gordon in their studies of working people’s lives. More than any other historian writing in this tradition, Remes has revealed the power of the informal networks and solidarities that existed in poorer communities, particularly during disasters, and he has highlighted the ways agents of state intervention failed to understand these strengths and their democratic significance. Scholars will find in this excellent study a model of transnational history and other readers, especially officials in charge of disaster relief, will discover a new way of thinking about the people they are attempting to 'rescue.'”--James Green, author of The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom

Disaster Citizenship provides a rich, original, and sensitive account of responses to two urban catastrophes, the Great Salem Fire (1914) and the 1917 Halifax explosion. Remes sets a new standard for transnational continental history as the everyday solidarity of working people is contrasted with the progressive state, civic institutions, and emergent welfare professionals.”--Suzanne Morton, author of Wisdom, Justice, and Charity: Canadian Social Welfare through the Life of Jane B Wisdom, 1884–1975

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