Lessons from a Disaster

Almost nine years ago, on March 11, 2011 at 2:45 p.m., a massive earthquake struck off of the coast of the Oshika Peninsula, a rural area of Japan about 400 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. Within minutes, a tsunami rolled in from the Pacific Ocean, striking a stretch of coastline over 820 kilometers long. Within three days, the cores of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima, Daiichi Nuclear Power plant were melting because their cooling systems had been disabled by the previous two natural events, leading to a release of nuclear radioactivity into the atmosphere and the nearby ocean. Within days of the Triple Disaster, scholars and students at Harvard University began to discuss how to document the events so that survivors might have their voices heard, the victims have their lives honored, and so that subsequent generations might learn in hopes of preparing for future cataclysms. The result of their work is the Japan Disaster Archive (JDA) (http://jdarchive.org/), a crowdsourced database that collects social media, video, still images, articles, and other online materials related to the events of 3/11 as well as the ongoing recovery process.

Karl Neumann on a 2013 volunteer trip to Tohoku.

Early this December, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard offered a three-day workshop for teachers from all over the United States as well as scholars and college students from Japan to explore how to use the JDA in their research and pedagogical activities.  It was a very natural thing to apply for participation in this program because of my role at Dana Hall as the teacher of East Asian Studies, and because of my prior experiences traveling to Tohoku, I was eager to learn how the project was documenting the area’s recovery. The workshop was invigorating, and the programming included graduate students from Sendai and Kumamoto sharing their research as well as an enthralling presentation by a teacher from the American School in Japan where she outlined her ideas for using the Archive with high school learners. Time was also set aside for participants to confer with each other on their project proposals and to brainstorm lesson ideas centered on the Archive’s contents. The high level of intellectual discourse was inspirational and left me with many ideas that I hope to share with my own students. In coming weeks, the JDA will figure significantly in my current events discussions, introducing the students to the disaster, the experiences of survivors posted on the site, and to the particular meanings of the events for modern Japan. We’ll also brainstorm on how lessons from Japan might be useful in helping Boston develop its own disaster preparedness plans, underlining the Area Studies program’s efforts to apply global learning to local issues and concerns.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Karl Neumann

Karl Neumann is a Social Studies teacher and Educational Technology Facilitator at Dana Hall School. He joined the School in 2005.

2 Replies to “Lessons from a Disaster”

  1. Karl, Thank you for sharing your expertise and passion for Japanese studies specifically, and East Asian studies more generally. I’m impressed that you have been a part of global efforts to learn from the Triple Disaster, and that you are bringing these efforts to Dana Hall.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the JDA workshop, Karl, and for teaching our students to think critically about historical events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *