Disasters leave their marks on the landscape. Years after their occurrence, disaster can be re-experienced through various networks of memory. Memory networks that go beyond the personal experiences of individuals directly involved. That include oral histories retold across generations, historical archives, government reports, websites, mass media or social media, or physical markers left behind in landscape architecture, intentional or not.

These memory networks are important sources for us to remember what happened. But they also make us aware of the fragility of what we take for granted, and moreover, that disasters can happen at any time in the now and near future as well. Legacies of the past as such, directly influence risk. Their traces and marks, their symbolic and practical impacts, are used by people when they build stories about the risk of future or expected events. Thus, beyond giving sense to and shaping local memories of tragic events, these memory-networks also orient how we see our future. In other words, when we remember, we also prepare.

Disaster memory-networks, then, are important influences on the resilience of our society. By referring back to events that happened in the past, theses temporal references become key actors in both emergency preparedness and healing. But how well is this memory-network being archived, sustained and cared-for? Can events be forgotten? And if so, how does this work?

This site shares research conducted by students of Anthropology of Disaster documenting traces of disaster in the Dutch landscape. Reflecting on memorialization, change, and meaning, the students provide ethnographic documentation of the mnemonic traces of the disaster in the landscape and document their own experience of the past event through their interaction with this landscape, and its inhabitants. They document:

Traces: What traces of the disaster did they still “see” in the landscapes? Are there different ways of “seeing” these traces that you they uncover?

Memorialization: How did the landscape interact with them, other people or other symbolic structures to memorialize the disaster? How and when may this memory be activated?

Reflections: How did they themselves reflect on their interactions with this post-disaster landscape? What does it mean to you to be present in this site, to become part of the memory-network? What has it taught them, and what do they suggest we could further learn based on this?

The papers archived on this site were collected during the course of a bachelor class at the University of Amsterdam about the Anthropology of Disasters from 2012-2014. We hope that they inspire. Not only to remember but also to remain aware of the importance of conserving the lessons from the past to build future resilience.

For more information, please contact Dr. Danny de Vries (d.h.devries@uva.nl).


Funding for this site was provided by the University of Amsterdam through a Grassroots ICT grant.

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