Hurricane Katrina and the chaos that resulted stand as a dark time in the history of the United States. Unlike the time period immediately after 9/11, when the citizens of the United States, along with the government, came together with a spirit of unity that was almost unprecedented, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seemed to push people even further apart and left much of the country to wonder why we weren’t able to effectively deal with a crisis in New Orleans that, from a casualty standpoint, was at least the equal of 9/11. Furthermore, the lack of a unified and successful response to this tragedy which left thousands dead brought to light some massive inequalities in this country (based on both social class as well as race) that this country is going to have to deal with over the coming years. More than a few people wondered how the response (and preparedness in the first place) may have been different if the affected area consisted of wealthy residents as opposed to the poor that lived in New Orleans and Mississippi. These types of questions, crystallized by Hurricane Katrina, are going to linger in our national consciousness for a very long time.
In another way, the discussion of the tragedy that occurred in 2005 helps us lay out the core concepts of this unit. There was an environmental crisis that forced people to react, adjust, and attempt to solve the problems. In doing so, social relationships were formed (and broken), the government attempted to solve the crisis, and (most importantly) many of the divisions that existed in the United States (social, political, economic) that were living just under the surface of our society were exposed and highlighted in a way that should make every observer a little uncomfortable. In understanding the manner in which an environmental crisis contributes to the evolution of human history, a few major questions are raised.
1. How does the interaction between man and the environment shape world history?
2. In what ways does mankind have a reciprocal (“Back-and-Forth”) relationship with the environment?
3. In what ways does that reciprocal relationship result in larger questions about the nature of our society and history as citizens of the world?
4. How do we balance the question of human needs against the dangers of environmental instability?
These questions should remain in your head as we progress through the timeline of world history. As the unit progresses, be sure to look back at these questions on a regular basis. You may find that your answers to these questions may not remain constant throughout this unit. In fact, I hope that you struggle with these questions throughout the next few weeks and, at the conclusion of the unit, can make a solid, cohesive argument in favor of a number of potential answers. Good luck.