An examination of how changing public information infrastructures
shaped people's experience of earthquakes in Northern California in
1868, 1906, and 1989. When an earthquake happens in California
today, residents may look to the United States Geological Survey
for online maps that show the quake's epicenter, turn to Twitter
for government bulletins and the latest news, check Facebook for
updates from friends and family, and count on help from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). One hundred and fifty years
ago, however, FEMA and other government agencies did not exist, and
information came by telegraph and newspaper. In Documenting
Aftermath, Megan Finn explores changing public information
infrastructures and how they shaped people's experience of
disaster, examining postearthquake information and communication
practices in three Northern California earthquakes: the 1868
Hayward Fault earthquake, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and
fire, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. She then analyzes the
institutions, policies, and technologies that shape today's
postdisaster information landscape. Finn argues that information
orders-complex constellations of institutions, technologies, and
practices-influence how we act in, experience, and document events.
What Finn terms event epistemologies, constituted both by
historical documents and by researchers who study them, explain how
information orders facilitate particular possibilities for
knowledge. After the 1868 earthquake, the Chamber of Commerce
telegraphed reassurances to out-of-state investors while local
newspapers ran sensational earthquake narratives; in 1906, families
and institutions used innovative techniques for locating people;
and in 1989, government institutions and the media developed a
symbiotic relationship in information dissemination. Today,
government disaster response plans and new media platforms imagine
different sources of informational authority yet work together
shaping disaster narratives.
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