Cities and Disaster: Past, Present, and Future (Spring 2022)

Cary Karacas (Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Graduate Center | Political Science and Global Affairs, College of Staten Island)
Robin Kietlinski (History, LaGuardia Community College)

Spring 2022
Course Number: IDS 81640

This team-taught, interdisciplinary course will focus on disasters faced by major urban centers across a broad span of time and place. Taught by a geographer and a historian who both specialize in the intersection of cities and crisis, the course will offer a unique perspective on critical issues that arise when cities and citizens are forced to endure a catastrophic event. The course will be divided into three thematic and chronological units: 1) PAST: The focus of this unit will be on the historic destruction and subsequent remaking of important urban centers such as Lisbon, Chicago, Chongqing, Dresden, and Tokyo as a result of earthquakes, fires, and wartime bombing; 2) PRESENT: Cities that have recently experienced destruction and reconstruction as a result of worsening climate conditions, with a sustained focus on New York City during and after Hurricane Sandy; and 3) FUTURE: An examination of cities in the Global South that are being and will continue to be impacted by environmental degradation, climate change, and diminishing resources such as water. We will interrogate differences between the concepts of “natural” versus “man-made” disasters, looking at specific case studies as we discuss how and why the line is not always a clear one.

Working in conjunction with the Graduate Center’s Teaching & Learning Center, we will have each of our students develop a single lecture that connects general concepts learned in the course to a specific example of a city impacted by disaster that they will research throughout the semester. Ideally, by the end of the semester, each student will have delivered their lecture to an undergraduate class (either an Urban Geography or Introduction to Geography course offered at the College of Staten Island, or a World History survey course at LaGuardia).

This course will contribute to diversity at the Graduate Center in a number of ways. Across our team-teaching partnership we will balance our work evenly, and anticipate a good working relationship as we both have prior experience in team teaching. Both instructors have worked in a team-teaching capacity in Japan, and Dr. Kietlinski has team-taught four semesters of World History at LaGCC with a PhD student from Columbia University’s South Asia Institute (in an innovative partnership that she established between LaGCC and Columbia in 2014). Structurally, our class at the Graduate Center will use pedagogical methods that ensure inclusion and equity such as open educational resources (discussed in the below section on pedagogical innovation). We will utilize an online platform to upload course materials in an effort to both offer greater access and to reduce ecological impact. Finally, the course content included in our syllabus will be diverse in terms of challenging a traditional Western canon. The third unit on future challenges to the Global South will be noteworthy in its inclusion of voices of scholars from India and other countries facing the most acute threats.


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309