Disaster and Digital Humanities

Report on lecture by Dagmar Schäfer at the Peking University Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (December 17, 2019)

Wenyan Tongxun, the newsletter of the Peking University Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (IHSS), has reported on director Dagmar Schäfer's talk, "Disaster and Digital Humanities," delivered as part of its “Science · Culture” lecture series in December 2019. PKU Logo 

Schäfer's talk focused upon her team's research on the Chinese local gazetteers—which have very rich disaster records—in constructing a Chinese disaster and climate history. Highlighting one particular type of disaster, in this case involving mulberries and sericulture, demonstrates the social and political influences on data generation. As Schäfer argued, local gazetteers should therefore be seen not merely as a database but as a "relational database" with its own particular structures.

During the discussion session, questions were raised about the characteristics of local gazetteers and the use of database methods. Schäfer emphasized that scholars need to be aware of the limitations of local gazetteers and use them with care: although such databases can help in establishing a clearer idea of the bigger picture, textual reading and research into individual cases is still necessary.  

Dagmar Schäfer was appointed as an Honorary Visiting Professor of the institute in December 2019. Together with Professors Dorothy Ko and Angela Ki-Che Leung, she delivered a course on Material Cultural History Methods and Practice.