A Lens on Disaster through Newspapers

Coverage of hurricanes and tropical storms is ubiquitous throughout Caribbean newspapers. From general discussion of hurricane preparations to day-by-day chronicles of storms' impact on people and places, over centuries the news has provided insight into such topics as:

  1. how residents have experienced and remembered hurricanes over time;
  2. the growth of local and international relief organizations, and their impact;
  3. environmental and economic effects, including the growth of disaster capitalism; and
  4. reprinting networks across the region, and how they shared news of disaster.

Reading between the lines of newspapers can also highlight silences, including how hurricane coverage has often omitted stories of impacts on marginalized individuals, or prioritization of property over human life. The identities of newspaper editors and papers' intended audiences--including racial and ethnic positionality, political stance, and relationship to colonial governments--play a major role in shaping narratives around disaster.

Men walking in El Prado, with fallen trees after 1926 Havana-Bermuda Hurricane. Black and white photo.
Men walking in El Prado in Havana, Cuba, following October 1926 hurricane. [Digital Library of the Caribbean.]

Though far from comprehensive, this toolkit offers a thematic entry point into the 1 million pages of newspaper content in the Caribbean Digital Newspaper Library. While already accessible for browsing and searching, a growing number of titles can also be downloaded in bulk text and image formats via a separate data repository

The toolkit includes:

  1. A small dataset of hurricane coverage from the 1780s to the 1960s, including relationships to specific storms
  2. A larger dataset of all places where hurricanes are mentioned throughout eight titles, browsable by newspaper and date
  3. Several tutorials and sample projects showing how the data was created and how to use it
  4. An exhibit with more information about featured newspapers