An Environmental History of San Francisco's 1906 Earthquake
- PUBLISHED: August 2019
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Environmental History, Environmental Studies, History / Western History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 376 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 41 b&w illus., 1 map
- SERIES: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
- ISBN: 9780295746098
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
On April 18, 1906, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco region, igniting fires that burned half the city. The disaster in all its elements — earthquake, fires, and recovery — profoundly disrupted the urban order and challenged San Francisco’s perceived permanence.
The crisis temporarily broke down spatial divisions of class and race and highlighted the contested terrain of urban nature in an era of widespread class conflict, simmering ethnic tensions, and controversial reform efforts. From a proposal to expel Chinatown from the city center to a vision of San Francisco paved with concrete in the name of sanitation, the process of reconstruction involved reenvisioning the places of both people and nature. In their zeal to restore their city, San Franciscans downplayed the role of the earthquake and persisted in choosing patterns of development that exacerbated risk.
In this close study of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Joanna L. Dyl examines the decades leading up to the catastrophic event and the city’s recovery from it. Combining urban environmental history and disaster studies, Seismic City demonstrates how the crisis and subsequent rebuilding reflect the dynamic interplay of natural and human influences that have shaped San Francisco.
Authors & Contributors
Joanna L. Dyl teaches in the Environmental Analysis Program at the Claremont Colleges.
Foreword / Paul S. Sutter
1. Making Land, Making a City
2. Catastrophe and Its Interpretations
3. Bread Lines and Earthquake Cottages
4. Rebuilding and the Politics of Place
5. Disaster Capitalism in the Streets
6. Plague, Rats, and Undesirable Nature
7. Symbolic Recovery and the Legacies of Disaster
Dyl’s analysis reveals the ways in which cultural, political, and economic pressures influence the nature of the built environment, even in the context of environmental hazards. . . . These narratives of survival and resistance complicate tidy Progressive-era stories of urban reform and revitalization, revealing heterogeneous experiences of disaster and remaking within the city. . . . Dyl’s work enlivens historical actors typically removed from narratives of this urban revitalization [and] asks provocative questions about how we retell narratives of past disasters, account for natural processes in our present lives, and plan for our futures in these sites.- Shari Wilcox, Edge Effects
Seismic City is a landmark in the relatively new field of disaster studies...It makes for a gripping read.- California History
Seismic City offers an important contribution to the history of San Francisco by interweaving nature, human actions, and the built environment.- H-Environment
The strength of Dyl’s work stems from her consideration of natural disasters as something very different from exceptional or singular occurrences.- Planning Perspectives
environmental history delivers a unique portrait of the 1906 disaster.- Pacific Historical Review
Seismic City is a superb environmental history of most well-known disasters of a popular western city.- New Mexico Historical Review
Seismic City is among the best accounts I've read of the endlessly fascinating San Francisco earthquake, fire, and aftermath. What's more, Dyl's got style--it's fun to learn how, 111 years later, this event continues to offer lessons for the world we live in today.- Sean Wilsey, author of Oh the Glory of It All
Dyl's Seismic City is the best history of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 you'll ever read. Dyl demonstrates how wrongheaded it is to label this tragedy a 'natural disaster,' revealing the social and cultural underpinnings of one of the worst calamities in the history of the United States.- Ari Kelman, University of California, Davis
This thoroughly readable and solidly documented book goes well beyond the mayhem of the quake and fires to include complex stories of labor struggles, sanitation reforms, and race and environmental justice during the long recovery process.- Craig E. Colten, author of An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature
An original work about the 1906 disaster and its causes, context, and consequences.- Matthew Morse Booker, author of Down by the Bay: San Francisco's History between the Tides