Rachel Small

Ph.D. Candidate

Rachel Small's dissertation research analyzes social experiences and cultural understandings of natural disasters in early modern Germany. Within the context of the Little Ice Age, the German lands experienced an increased number and severity of disasters, such as floods, windstorms, droughts, and fires. The volatility of the natural environment in the Harz Mountain foothills and the lowlands of the northern German coast shaped how the human populations of the region interacted with the land, including altering traditional methods of natural resource extraction and the implementation of new infrastructure and policies, among many other aspects of daily life. Human responses to natural catastrophes also shaped the way that individuals and their contemporary religious and political structures defined the causes of disaster and how those structures implemented efforts to stymy future crises. She argues that men’s and women’s experiences of the short- and long-term impact of such disasters differed based on their surrounding ecology, gender identity, occupation and social status, access to land and water, and social behaviors.

With support from University of Arizona’s SBSRI and GPSC, the Society for Reformation Research, the U.S. Student Fulbright program, and the Russell and Dorothy Bilinski Foundation, Rachel Small collected critical archival and library materials dating from the mid-sixteenth century to 1755 to build her project. Legal records from property disputes and allegations of blame, labor statutes and building codes, disaster reports and charitable account records, petitions for relief aid, environmental reports on damages, and printed sermons commemorating catastrophes provide the basis for her work and allow her to reconstruct the harrowing stories of resilience and recovery in the wake of disaster.