Summer Course Heads to Japan for Study of Seismic Disasters

Group explores events’ history, and environmental, cultural, and social impacts


L-R: Tori Shea ’15, Cary Jones ’15, Jonathan Gourley, Thomas Pelletier (IDP), Ye Lin Jay Jang ’12, Jeff Bayliss, Heidy Xie ’18
Hartford, CT, July 31, 2015 – While things on Trinity’s campus slow down a bit during the summer, curricular activities through faculty-led and credit-bearing summer traveling programs to advance Trinity’s Urban-Global initiative heat up. Under the aegis of the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS), seven Trinity faculty members took 19 students on two such programs to Japan and China respectively.

In late May, Professors Jeff Bayliss (History) and Jonathan Gourley (Environmental Science), led a new fieldwork course, “Seismic Disasters in Japan, Then and Now: Earth, Environment, and Culture.” This course, made possible with support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Tanaka Fund for Student Research, brought a group of five students on a tour of sites in Japan that have been impacted by such disasters – including Tokyo (destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1923), Mount Asama (a volcano that erupted in 1783 with catastrophic consequences for nearby communities and beyond), and the Pacific coast of northeastern Honshu (site of numerous killer tsunamis throughout recorded history, including the modern events of 1896, 1933, 1960, and now 2011).

Over the course of two weeks, the group explored the history of these events, and their environmental, cultural, and social impacts firsthand, through visits to museums commemorating these disasters, as well as the communities that experienced them. The group also interviewed local government officials and residents of communities impacted by the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami about their experiences and the problems they currently face on the long road to recovery. Highlights of the course included climbing the slopes of Mt. Asama – one of Japan’s most active volcanoes – while learning about its geological features from Professor Gourley, a tour of the devastated city of Rikuzentakata and conversations with Mayor Futoshi Toba and international relations adviser Amya Miller about the city’s future, and meetings with various survivors of the tsunami in the coastal port of Kesennuma.

View an animated PowerPoint presentation about the course here. Read a related blogpost by Professor Gourley here.

Written by Jeff Bayliss (contributions from Xiangming Chen and Terry Romero). Photos by Jeff Bayliss.