Online Seminar

Letters to the Editor: Reporting Disasters in Late Nineteenth Century Philippines

By Prof. Greg Bankoff, online, 21 Feb 2023, 10:00 UTC/GMT

ICHM Annual Seminar Series

Join us for our first seminar of 2023 with historical geographer, Professor Greg Bankoff (Ateneo de Manila University) who will be speaking about his research on newspaper reporting of disasters in the Philippines in the nineteenth century.

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A revolution in how news was reported occurred in the late nineteenth century with the advent of daily newspapers and a growing telegraph network that allowed correspondents in the provinces to give timely accounts of what was happening in local towns and their surrounding hinterlands. Many of these reports graphically describe the natural hazards, the typhoons, floods, fires, tremors and the like that, all too frequently, afflicted rural communities. These descriptions mainly took the form of letters written to the editors of Manila-based newspapers, such as El Comercio, El Diario de Manila, and La Oceania Española. Who were these correspondents, where were they, what were their concerns, and what did they have to say? Looking in depth at the newspaper accounts of one year, 1881, a singly uneventful year in terms of “big news”, this talk provides a snapshot into rural life and its vicissitudes towards the end of the Spanish colonial era. It also explores how reporting the news began to build a collective consciousness of the Philippines as a nation.


Greg Bankoff is a historical geographer who focuses on the way societies interrelate with their environments over time, especially the way people adapt to frequent hazards. For the last 30 years, he has focused his research primarily on Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Pacific, and the North Sea seeking to understand how societies, both past and present, have learnt to normalise risk and the way in which communities deal with crisis through an applied interdisciplinary approach. He is a Research Fellow at Ateneo de Manila University and Professor Emeritus of Environmental History at the University of Hull and has published extensively. Among his recent publications is a co-edited volume, Why Vulnerability Still Matters: The Politics of Disaster Risk Creation (2022).