Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Before Katrina, there was Camille

Forty-two years ago, on August 17, 1969, Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi. Nothing in modern hurricane history has quite matched the combination of it's sustained wind speeds, barometric lows, and storm surge—not to mention the reach of its destructive path (from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the Appalachians of central Virginia).

If our now-familiar system of rating Atlantic storms had been in use at the time, Camille would have been a Category 5—with a vengeance—when it made landfall. It's a testament to Camille's devastation that it inspired the implementation of the Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates hurricane severity across a range from 1 to 5.

In CAMILLE, 1969, historian Mark M. Smith revisits Camille's ground zero in southern Mississippi. Smith brings alive the sensory experience and impact of the hurricane—how the storm rearranged and challenged residents’ senses of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste. He also discusses how longstanding attitudes and customs based on race and class fared in the storm's aftermath.
Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Central Library

Smith was recently a guest on the South Carolina public radio show Walter Edgar's Journal. "Something as powerful as Camille . . . throws a society back into almost a premodern era," Smith told Edgar, as he explained how Mississippians' worlds were "utterly rearranged" by Camille at both physical and psychological levels. Listen to Smith's entire interview online at ETV Radio.

Mark M. Smith has a longstanding interest in sensory history, which he describes as a "vibrant area of historical inquiry dedicated to examining the roles played by olfaction, hearing, touch, and taste (as well as vision) in shaping the past." To learn more about sensory history, check out HEARING HISTORY, the first anthology devoted to aural history.

Other hurricane-related titles from the Press include BEYOND KATRINA and LOWCOUNTRY HURRICANES. And for further insights into how a large-scale natural disaster can disrupt—often for the better—a stricly ordered society, check out the recently released UPHEAVAL IN CHARLESTON, about the famous 1886 earthquake in South Carolina.

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