Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Mark D. Szuchman

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

N. David Cook

Third Advisor's Name

Sherry Johnson

Fourth Advisor's Name

Richard S. Olson


Argentina, Chile, Natural Disasters, Earthquakes, State, Society, Environment, Technology, Religion, Science, Nation, Identity, Architecture, Crime, Criminality

Date of Defense



Natural disasters in Argentina and Chile played a significant role in the state-formation and nation-building process (1822-1939). This dissertation explores state and society responses to earthquakes by studying public and private relief efforts reconstruction plans, crime and disorder, religious interpretations of catastrophes, national and transnational cultures of disaster, science and technology, and popular politics. Although Argentina and Chile share a political border and geological boundary, the two countries provide contrasting examples of state formation. Most disaster relief and reconstruction efforts emanated from the centralized Chilean state in Santiago. In Argentina, provincial officials made the majority of decisions in a catastrophe’s aftermath. Patriotic citizens raised money and collected clothing for survivors that helped to weave divergent regions together into a nation. The shared experience of earthquakes in all regions of Chile created a national disaster culture. Similarly, common disaster experiences, reciprocal relief efforts, and aid commissions linked Chileans with Western Argentine societies and generated a transnational disaster culture. Political leaders viewed reconstruction as opportunities to implement their visions for the nation on the urban landscape. These rebuilding projects threatened existing social hierarchies and often failed to come to fruition. Rebuilding brought new technologies from Europe to the Southern Cone. New building materials and systems, however, had to be adapted to the South American economic and natural environment. In a catastrophe’s aftermath, newspapers projected images of disorder and the authorities feared lawlessness and social unrest. Judicial and criminal records, however, show that crime often decreased after a disaster. Finally, nineteenth-century earthquakes heightened antagonism and conflict between the Catholic Church and the state. Conservative clergy asserted that disasters were divine punishments for the state’s anti-clerical measures and later railed against scientific explanations of earthquakes.





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