Remembering Sandy: Stewardship, Memory, History

A year ago I wrote a series of blog posts on Hurricane Sandy here at American Science. In them, I reported on experiences in Hoboken, New Jersey, a city that was hammered by the storm, a city in which I then lived and in which I still work at the Stevens Institute of Technology. A few months ago, I was asked to put together an event marking the Superstorm’s one year anniversary. That event took place on October 29th, a year to the day that Sandy struck, and today, Stevens has posted a video of the multimedia event, which mixed videos of interviews with live presentations.

At their best, history and other forms of inquiry can include acts of stewardship, service to some community whether it is near or far. When I set about organizing this event, I approached it with the eye of a public historian and sought to create oral history videos and other records that would mark our memories of the event. (I would like to see some philosopher of history explore the relationship between writing history and other acts, like commemorating, memorializing, marking, etc.) This effort included having influential people, like Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Monsignor Robert Meyer, speak at the event, but we also interviewed ordinary Hobokenites and people who worked hard to help others.

There are slight touches of science and technology studies throughout the presentation. The event wasn’t the place to sell an interdisciplinary endeavor. But the presentation included Professor Alan Blumberg and Dean Michael Bruno, two members of the Stevens community who are involved in predicting ocean dynamics, including flooding. Later in the presentation, two members of Hoboken’s tech community, Dave Haier and Aaron Price, talked about their role in responding to and helping the recovery from Sandy.

On a broader level, the presentation sought to explore the nature of innovation under disaster, a theme I’d previously explored both here at American Science and at the STS Next 20 page.
At the latter outlet, I noted, “Wiebe Bijker recently investigated how scientists in India develop systems for nanotechnology research that are much cheaper than systems in rich Western nations. This form of tinkering and making do with limited resources is known in India as jugaad (the idea is akin to the French notion of “bricolage”). During disasters, nearly everyone must practice a bit of jugaad because the systems we depend upon are temporarily not functional.” At the Sandy event, I took the charging stations that popped up all around Hoboken as the central metaphor and image.

The video opens with some nice remarks and memories of Stevens President, Nariman Farvardin. My part begins at about 10:40.

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