Searching for the Historical Roots of the March 11, 2011 Disasters in Japan

April 24-25, 2014, Phoenix, AZ, United States

This workshop seeks to intervene in current conversations surrounding the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters. A historical perspective on the origins of the 3.11 disasters has not been adequately incorporated into conversations on recovery, reconstruction, disaster preparedness, public health, and energy in Japan. While the disaster has often been framed as “natural” in public discourse, there were clear institutional, economic, social, technological, and environmental factors that played a role in causing and exacerbating the various disasters, as well as shaping the recovery and reconstruction efforts. This workshop invites scholars to present historical work in four areas: the environment, energy, public health, and institutional responses. It will utilize Arizona State University’s strengths in sustainability, environmental history, life sciences, and energy by involving scholars from these fields as commentators and participants.

April 24, 2014: DAY 1
Keynote Address (4:00 to 5:30)
“Trying to Outsmart the Earth: Earthquake Prediction in Japan and Some of its Costs”
–Gregory Smits, Penn State University

April 25, 2014: DAY 2
Introductory Remarks/Introductions (8:30-9:00)

Panel 1 (9:00-10:30): Negotiating the Physical Environment: 3.11 in Relation to the History of Disaster Responses

“Signs and Memory: Ritual and the Shaping of Historical Archives for Risk”
–Kristina Buhrman, Florida State University

“Call it A ’Wash’?: Conundrums of Technological Modernization and Flood Amelioration in Early 20th Century Niigata Prefecture, Japan”
–Phil Brown, Ohio State University (in Taipei during Spring 2014)

Commentators: Megan Finn, University of California, Berkeley; Gregory Smitts, Penn State

Panel 2 (10:45 to noon): States of Energy: Historicizing Nuclear Japan

“Energy Empire: Colonial Carbon and the Transformation of Imperial Tokyo”
–Ian Miller, Harvard University

“The Postwar Development of the Electric Power Industry in Japan”
–Takuji Okamoto, Tokyo University

Commentator: Chris Jones, ASU

Panel 3 (1:30 to 3:00) Testing Exposure: Researching the Effects of Nuclear and Chemical Exposure

“Historicizing Uncertainty: Low-Dose Effect Studies of Radiation on Genetics in Japan”
–Lisa Onaga, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore

“When Will Fukushima Ever Be Over? Can Minamata Help Us Guess?”
–Timothy George, University of Rhode Island

Commentator: Jennifer Richter, ASU

Panel 4 (3:00 to 4:45) Responses and Responsibility: Socio-Economic Histories Surrounding the 3.11 Disasters

“Post-3.11 Law Reform Advocacy of the Japan Women’s Network for Disaster Risk Reduction”
–Hiroko Hara, Josai International University

“Natural and Unnatural Disasters: 3/11, Asbestos, and the Unmaking of Japan’s Modern World”
–Brett Walker, Montana State

Commentator: Paul Hirt, ASU

Closing Roundtable (5:00-6:00)

Contact: Aaron Moore (

Posted: April 16, 2014