All posts by jazminscarlett

Doing historical volcanology

So every year I say I should do more blogging…we will see how that goes. But in the mean time, I asked Twitter for some ideas of what to write and got this suggestion from my friend and fellow PhD volcanologist Geoff Lerner (he is doing some awesome stuff out in New Zealand, do check out his Twitter!)


So using inspiration from Geoff…I’m going to attempt to give a general overview of how historical volcanology works.

dog and book gif

To begin: how did we come to know about the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, and the destruction of Pomepii and Herculeum? The observations of Pliny the Younger. He was a man who lived in the distant past who observed a volcanic eruption. We also have countless volcanology studies about the eruption (and others that happened since). We also have unearthed archaeological sites and artefacts. Thanks to all this evidence, we now know that this eruption happened and its impacts on the surrounding society.

…and I guess we have the movie now?

A historian is a person who researches past events that relate to humans through narratives. Volcanologist one way or the other look at past volcanic eruptions…so you could say we are “Earth” historians.

Look I just googled “history gif” and I do not know why it is of an animated iceskater okay?

Volcanology in itself is diverse and researchers come from all different backgrounds: geology, petrology, geophysics, engineering, geochemistry  – I labelled here a number of “physical” science disciplines. In volcanology we are increasingly seeing the inclusion of the “social” sciences when exploring the impacts of volcanism on an exposed population.

Historians use tangible (sites, objects, instruments, remains) and intangible (memories, narratives, indigenous knowledge) artefacts. So a historical volcanologist uses tangible and/or intangible artefacts to understand past volcanic events from the human perspective. For me, I have mainly used intangible artefacts, with written records in archives and interviewing people remembering an eruption. Archaeologists are particularly good at using tangible artefacts, with plenty of research out there of looking at deep past volcanic events and their impacts on early human civiliations.


If a volcanologist looks at past volcanic events, combining the understanding of how people responded to the event within the historical and social context, with the scientific understanding of volcanism, it provides a richness and numerous perspectives of the story of an eruption that may not have been captured if doing a single disciplinary approach. Looking at the past, we can see how much the volcano and the society that live around it, have changed or not. Further social volcanology studies for a given volcano would benefit from the historical perspective in this way. Furthermore, a “traditional” physical volcanology study would complement a historical volcanology study and vice versa. One or the other could find things the other had not found before, which could lead to a fuller picture of what happened!


So to end this post I have compiled a little checklist I have gained during my PhD doing a historical volcanology project:


  1. Whatever “physical” science approach to volcanology you use, think outside of the box of how it would be beneficial to the society who has to live with the particular volcanic region you are researching;


2. This is important for every volcanologist – do your research on your volcano: its past activity, current activity, what signs and hazards it is known to produce and any probablitic scenarios of any potential future impact on society;

3. And now we take it up a notch: do your homework on your volcano in the context of the society who had to live with it. Here I mean the social and cultural significance of the volcano, what they knew and do not know about it, and perhaps most importantly (if using intangible artefacts): what language was used to describe what they saw and felt about the volcano? In times of activity would be a priority, but if you have the time (and money) look at quiet periods too;


4. And now, if you are looking at a historical eruption and you want to see what is in the archives* ask yourself: has the language to describe any volcanic phenomena associated with the volcano, similar or different to the present? You will need to be very aware that in the past, especially before the modern notions of “volcanology” as a science, people were very descriptive when observing volcanic activity (think “curtains of fire”, “it grew dark during the day”, “we heard rumblings” and so on);

*Using archives first requires identifying a collection: in most places this is available online, others it requires contacting the specific department and arranging a visit to see what is there. If a collection may prove useful, be prepared to go down some rabbit holes and not come back up for a while…it takes perseverance to find what you are looking for.

rabbit hole
Actual representation of what it is like doing archival work

5. Be respectful of the words written/spoken, objects etc. of those who are no longer here. As a volcanologist, and as a scientist, you can interpret what was observed with rigour but never dismiss other people’s own interpretations when they were within the moment, observing a phenomena they may have never witnessed before. Like all disasters, volcanic eruptions induce stress and anxiety (usually temporarily, but sometimes longer), occurring in their own social and cultural context that is different from your own;

6. Be extra mindful when researching volcanoes in countries that were colonised/occupied. I say this because written records that have survived are usually of one dominant “voice” and many others have either been manipulated or silenced. For my investigations into the 1812 and 1902-1903 eruptions of La Soufrière, I found that the voices of women, children, African slaves, freed persons of colour and indentured servants were almost entirely absent or manipulated (the experiences of myself, my family and POC friends allowed me to have a trained eye to stereotypical/racist language and behaviour). I tried to correct this by doing my interviews for the 1979 eruption by including men and women of varying ages and ethnicities – remember: each voice who provided a narrative is valid as many people experienced these violent events with their own education, experiences and perceptions;

7. Seek out local historians, they may know information that you could not find. I have been in contact with a local Vincentian historian who has been super helpful in pinpointing locations that no longer exist on maps today – then of course give credit where credit is due;

8. Lastly, give back! I have used documents from multiple archives in 3 different countries, all have had a dedicated curator/librarian to help me find what I needed and are super keen to help in anyway possible. As a way of saying thanks and to provide knowledge for any future researcher, give a copy of your finished work to the archive you used. For public dissimination, certainly put the country whose volcano you are researching first – you may be as creative and collaborative as you like!

Historical volcanology has been a new and exciting avenue to me, I have learned a lot about the volcano, the country, its people and myself. I know people say “leave the past in the past” but how else would we know how to better ourselves as a people and know how far we have come in living on this dynamic planet?

To embrace the future…why not start with the past!



I’m a 4th year now?!

Hello! So its been a while…I thought I update everyone on what has been going on in my #phdlife

Neverending writing

These past few months I have been focusing on getting drafts on my three results chapters.

Chapter 5 was the first draft I completed and gone through a number of revisions – it is focusing on the impacts of La Soufrière on the agriculture sector from the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions. I would say this has been the most challenging for me as I had little knowledge on economics and dynamics of the colonial/postcolonial markets. Every new draft is an improvement though, I have certainly found some interesting sugar cane production figures from 1812; learning about the different treatments between small allottee peasants and estate owners post-emancipation for 1902 and how the 1979 eruption and contract farming impacted the banana industry.

Image result for banana gif

The next chapter I completed to a full draft (and consequent revisions) was chapter 4. This chapter has been fun, its been reconstructing the three eruptions from various archive sources (letters, diaries, photographs and so on) and interviews (for the 1979 eruption). I have been making a chronological narrative and hazard maps from them (see below) and I have done my best to make the observations centre stage of the writing, with my volcanology interpretations after them. I am currently re-editing this chapter, and hopefully this draft will be as final as it can be next month.

2017-09-24 18.24.02
Left to right: 1812 eruption hazard map; 1902-1903 eruption hazard map and; the 1979 eruption hazard map. The base maps used were produced near to the eruption, so the 1812 base map is from the 1760s, the 1902 map is from the 1890s and the 1979 map is from the 1950s. I did this to keep the hazard mapping contexual to the time period.

The most recent chapter that has been drafted is my impacts on society chapter. This one has certainly seen the most changes in terms of its structure and what I wanted to say. The fact that the three eruptions happened at very distinct periods of societal development: slavery, post-emancipation and on the eve of Independence, means there is a lot to cover. And that has certainly been the issue at the moment…I have SO much I want to say! I will certainly need to be brave when deciding what to keep and what to either put on the back burner or put elsewhere. I have focused on the evolving risk, vulenrability and resilience between each eruption, and other topics such as how colonial racism hindered recovery in 1812 and 1902, and talking about the term ‘badow’ which evacuees created during the 1979 eruption.

Now that each chapter has been fully drafted, I need to start bringing it altogether, making sure my main themes/arguments thread nicely throughout. Still working on that. The biggest problem I have at the moment with my editing is that I am adding more in and not sacrificing any. My brain thinks that all of it is relevant. Not cool.

Image result for do not want gif

In other news…

Just had my 3rd year annual review on Friday…I was nervous for no reason as per usual. I think its because I am just becoming really attached to my writing now (a good thing and a bad thing) so I want to do well. There are things I need to work of course, but I am ready for what lies ahead!

Other big(ish) news is that I have moved out of the city where I am at uni and moved in with my dad up north. Its been good so far, sometimes isolating as I do not have other PhDs to talk to face-to-face (although I do skype with a friend if I/she has a research problem we can talk through) but I am managing. I have also taken up part-time temp work to keep me going for now…been interesting juggling non-academic and academic work!

Lastly, remember when I said there was a visiting researcher position I was applying for? Well…I can now say that the funding was accepted, so I will be heading to the University of Aarhus (Denmark) doing a mini Geoheritage project sometime next year! I am very excited to use my historical volcanology knowledge in a different way!

Image result for wynonna earp gif

What is next?

Just got to keep on with the writing! And keeping up with earning money. And making sure I eat. And exercise. And socialise. And deciding when to go to Denmark and find a place to live etc etc etc…

Image result for just keep swimming gif


Why I am new to territorial acknowledge?

I've only come across territorial acknowledge via Twitter recently. I feel guilty that it was only recently and not at the start of the academic journey. Although that guilt can easily be replaced with: why haven't I seen it talked about in this country? I mean…I have a few opinions as to why, but I will leave the politics of colonialism/post-colonialism to others.

I found a few sites on how terrirotial acknowledgement is approached by them (links at the end) and found that they were based on respect and building positive bridges based on the land they are living on. Although the UK won't be able to exactly do this, what if our research is in a country/region that did belong to indigneous groups before European contact? I would see it as a strength that we are trying to build bridges that we face up to our country's past, acknowledge that there were negative consequences and that we need to develop new healthier relationships.

Here is my acknowledgement example:

"This thesis has been conducted on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that once belonged to the Kalinago, who call the island Youloumain, and the Garifuna, who call the island Yurumei. They originally inhabited the coastal areas of the island however, due to British colonialisation they were forced inland and north near the volcano La Soufrière, in which unfortunately the original name given by the Kalinago and Garifuna has been lost. This has ever since placed the descendants of the two groups at higher risk of La Soufrière’s explosive eruptions. At the end of the Second Carib War in 1797, many Garifuna were exiled to Roatán, an island of Honduras. Exiled descendants now live in Belize, and continue to fight to return to their homeland. It is without a doubt, that the influence of colonialisation and creolisation has caused the indigenous knowledge of the island and the hazards that it is exposed to, to be omitted from written historical records, which do not reflect the enduring sovereignty of the Kalinago and Garifuna people. The island still belongs to them, but is no longer predominately occupied by them. The author has endeavoured to represent the groups’ voice in the narrative of this thesis."

  • Kalinago – displaced the Arawak in the Lesser Antilles, migrating from Venezuela (called "Yellow/Red Caribs"
  • Garifuna – runaway African slaves (supposedly Spanish) who intermarried with the Kalinago (called "Black Caribs")

I think it will go before or after my main acknowledgements. I suppose I am making the effort to do this is because I know my family and ancestors are from previously colonised countries (St. Vincent, Jamaica, Cuba, Cameroon and possibly India) and one thing my grandfather always tells me is: "We are Carib, our blood is Carib" but unfortunately, I do not know if I am Kalinago or Garifuna.

The acknowledgement humanises and lets people know you understand the past, present and future of the communities that were in certain areas before others came along. We should not feel ashamed in doing it and we certainly should not keep pushing some groups of people out. We should acknowledge the territories in which we live and/or work upon.


Territorial acknowledgement links

A quick update!

I apologise for the lack of posts…been busy writing away!

I have completed drafts on chapters 4 and 5, and currently working away on chapter 6. Chapter 4 I reconstructed the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions of La Soufrière using archive sources and interviews. Chapter 5 was the impacts of the eruptions on the agricultural industry. Chapter 6 I am focusing on the evolving social risk and geoculture across the 168 years.

Chapter 6 is a bit of a challenge, but I have a lot of fascinating stuff to share once it all comes together! 

In other news: 

  • I have applied for a Visting Researcher position but I won’t say anything more! 
  • I will be attending the IRDR 7th Annual Conference in July
  • I’ll also be attending a ‘Building Resilience to Geohazards in the Face of Uncertainty’ hosted by the Geological Society in September

That’s all for now! I’ll be using my new mantra to get through the next few months:


Etna putting on a show

Because of the whole faff of the Oscars (honestly, why it was headline news I’ll never know), some may have missed something awesome: Mt Etna in Sicily started producing Strombolian activity at a new scoria cone at the Southeast crater last night.

Here is a link to a very stable live video feed of the ongoing eruption, the featured photo is a screenshot of tonight’s activity. Enjoy!


To aspiring girls everywhere

Hello! The Inthecompanyofvolcanoes blogging ladies have called upon women who do volcanology around the world (including myself) to share why love what they do and encouraging words to girls (and boys) to get into STEM and geoscience. 

It’s an inspiring read with so many fantastic women featured, so do check it out and share with kids! You can find it here.
It will be updated as time goes on, so do check it out every now and then! 


Risky business: getting the balance between research and media coverage

In the ideal world as researchers, we all want our findings to reach the public and be understood. How clear (or unclear) we present our research outside of the science domain could be a reason why it gets interpreted in a way we did not intend.

Near the end of last year, the Campi Flegrei Caldera in Italy, made the news- for better or for worse. The positive part (from a scientific perspective) was that the news came about because a journal article was published and picked up by the media. The less positive part was that in some cases (not all), the interpretation of this news was all doom and gloom. I will look at 1 tabloid and 1 broadsheet based newspapers that reported the news to showcase this.

Critical degassing pressure

The study in question was by Chiodini et al. (2016). They used a volatile (gas) saturation model based on Papale et al. (2006) to illustrate the decompression of magma can reach the ‘critical degassing pressure’, affecting the magma’s ability to release water and convect heat. The sub-disciplines of geochemistry and geophyics were used to understand this. In order to make the experiment applicable to the ‘real world’, Campi Flegrei was used as the main example but, there were also references to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea (Acocella et al., 2015) and Sierra Negra in the Galapagos (Segall, 2013). When I can find them, I will update this post to blogs that go into more detail about this paper.

As a social volcanologist, I am more interested in how people interpreted, responded and communicated the following headlines:

Daily Mail Online: Is the SUPERVOLCANO under Naples about to blow? Campi Flegrei crater shows signs of ‘reawakening’


Shares: 326 (17/01/16)

Comments: 82 (17/01/16)

The article was actually quite brief, and gave a basic version of the main findings. This is understandable and a common practice when communicating information from research to the public. However, the main thing that got my attention was SUPERVOLCANO. The term supervolcano is used to describe a volcano that has produced at least one explosive “supereruption” – that is, an eruption that has a volcanic explosivity index (VEI) 8 or higher, according to Miller and Wark (2008). Other factors that make a volcano “super” are:

  • The ejection of volcanic material has to be greater than 105kg/450 km3 (Sparks et al., 2005; Self, 2006);
  • Relatively shortlived (Francis and Oppenheimer, 2004; Mason et al., 2004);
  • Produce deposits 1000 km3 or more (Miller and Wark, 2008).

Most people are aware of the Yellowstone supervolcano complex, and that is where I think people had jumped to conclusions. Key point that I believe was overlooked was a short quote by Chiodini found in the article:”It is not possible at this time to say when – or if – the volcano will erupt anew” but he then does say if it did. Our science today is not 100% accurate that we can have an exact date and time when an eruption will occur, so communicating the uncertainty is important.

The Guardian: Volcano near Naples showing signs of reawakening


Shares: 4,023 (17/01/16)

Comments: 121 (17/01/16)

A noticeable difference on first glance is the less dramatic headline but, also the significant number of shares and comments.

The summary of findings was essentially the same to the tabloid but, upon reading it the language used does not betray the same level of concern. It presented the facts without using the word “supervolcano”, but interestingly at the end reminds us of the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius. The same quote of Chiodini was used however, it was extended to include the importance of continued research: “Chiodini said there was an urgent need to obtain a better understanding of Campi Flegrei’s behaviour because of the risk to such a dense urban population”. There is plenty of research being done out there on understanding Campi Flegrei, as well as to better inform the public.

Perhaps it is down to more than just knowledge of volcanism (and the particular volcano in question). In the UK, (and perhaps elsewhere, please let me know what it is like in your countries!) it is well known that there are clear divisions in the types of people who read certain newspapers (tabloid versus broadsheet). Maybe it depends on how trustworthy the sources of information are, in the context of hazard communication. With all the issues of fake news of late, this is perhaps important to consider for the future when it comes to communicating about natural disasters and research. For researchers it is important to consider how we communicate our research and in particular uncertainity. Maybe as part of our development as academics, science communication and public engagement should be taught to us by scientists who good at doing so (e.g. Brian Cox, Iain Stewart, David Attenborough, Steven Hawking…where are the famous women STEM communicators?!).


When I heard this news, one of my thoughts was how did the people in Naples and Italy in general respond to this? I have read and heard about the ways volcanologists and key stakeholders involved in managing potential future activity for Campi Flegrei. A noticeable thing I have gathered is that the city of Naples is a very sensitive and challenging situation. There is an expanding population in the vicinity of a famous active volcano that last erupted in 1944 (Vesuvius), but fortunately was not as destructive as the 79AD eruption, as well as Campi Flegrei. Naples is a tourist attraction, I for one have been there on a holiday before heading out to fieldwork on Mt Etna. It is risky, and raises more questions.

Scarlett J. (2014) Vesuvius, from the Bay of Naples. An ever looming threat for the people of Naples, as well as Campi Flegrei.
To get an idea how the people exposed to this area perceive Campi Flegrei, there was a volcanic risk perception study done by Ricci et al. (2013) – which was a great help for my own volcanic risk perception study on St Vincent. Despite a high confidence in the volcanologists, it was found that there was a low saliency (level of importance) towards the hazards of Campi Flegrei, lack of awareness of the risks, and little information regarding the hazards and risks. There was also a low confidence in the local authorities, which hints that preparedness for a future potential volcanic crisis at Campi Flegrei is low. It was surprising the similarities of their results to mine.

This is not to say that the exposed population is not prepared, but it has and will need continued discussions between volcanologists, local authorties and the community in order to increase the preparedness level. There is time to improve preparedness, it is just a matter of clear communication lines between the different stakeholders.

Final thoughts

We can never fully predict how people interpret and react to our research. It perhaps depends on how we communicate our research, by addressing uncertainty and expressing that all efforts are being made to prepare everyone. The paper that stirred up this fuss in itself was interesting science but that was not fully appreciated, mainly due to when changing our research for the public domain, all the important terminology, methods and explanations can be lost, simply because the public do not know the science how we volcanologists know it. Due to the recent topic of fake news, knowing which source is trustworthy may play a greater role in communicating risk in the future. As scientists, our research needs to be clear, and media needs to think more about being sincere in the information that they take from us, not take it just to sell papers.

I would be very interested to hear from people who also saw this news and if you are a volcanologist, did you get any questions? (e.g. can I still go on holiday there).



Acocella V., Di Lorenzo R., Newhall C. and Scandone R. (2015) Caldera unrest: knowledge and perspectives. Rev. Geophys. Vol. 53. Pg. 896-955.

Chiodini G., Paonita A., Aiuppa A., Costa A., Caliro S., De Martino P., Acocella V. and Vandemeulebrouck J. (2016) Magmas near the critical degassing pressure drive volcanic unrest towards a critical state. Nature Communications. Vol. 7. Pg. 1-9 [online]

Francis P. and Oppenheimer C. (2004) Volcanoes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mason B.G., Pyle D.M. and Oppenheimer C. (2004) The size and frequency of the largest explosive eruptions on Earth. Bulletin of Volcanology. Vol. 66. Pg. 735-748.

Miller C.F. and Wark D.A. (2008) Supervolcanoes and their explosive supereruptions. Elements. Vol. 4. Pg. 11-16.

Papael P., Moretti R. and Barbato D. (2006) The compositional dependence of the saturation surface of H2O+CO2 fluids in silicate melts. Chem. Geol. Vol. 229. Pg. 78-95.

Ricci T., Barberi F., Davis M.S., Isaia R. and Nave R. (2013) Volcanic risk perception in the Campi Flegrei area. Journal of volcanology and geothermal research. Vol. 254. Pg. 118-130.

Segall P. (2013) Volcano deformation and eruption forecasting. London: Geological Society, Special Publications.

Self S. (2006) The effects and consequences of very large explosive volcanic eruptions. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A. Vol. 364. Pg. 2073-2097.

Sparks R.S.J., Self S., Grattan J.P., Oppenheimer C., Pyle D.M. and Rymer H. (2005) Super-eruptions: global effects and future threats. London: Geological Society of London Working Group, The Geological Society.

Cities on Volcanoes 9 experience

Upon returning from US fieldwork, I only had a number of weeks to create a conference poster and be on my way to the airport. I was preparing for the Cities on Volcanoes 9 (CoV9) international conference in Puerto Varas, Chile.

I did not know what to expect from the country or the conference. Luckily, both exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot from those who viewed my poster to the talks and other posters, met/made many new contacts and friends, as well as seeing some familiar faces.

CoV is an international conference occurring every 2 years hosted at an alternative city in the vicnity of a volcano(es). The aim is to bring together volcanologists, disaster managers and other researchers concerned with volcanic impacts on society, through the promotion of inter/multi-disciplinary research and establishing colloboration between physical and social scientists, as well as stakeholders like town planners. The particular theme for this year was “Understanding volcanoes and society: the key for risk mitigation”. CoV is part of the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior), which represents all volcanologist throughout the world.

I am not entirely sure how many delegates there was, but it certainly had to be over 500. There was such a rich representation of research across the world, in poster and oral form. There was a lot of them so it was impossible to sit in all talks and speak to everyone about their poster. My priority is to stick the talks and posters that are relevant to my project as well as my research interests, then if I have the time to see/read others, then I will.

Talks/posters I focused on related to agricultural impacts of volcanic eruptions, risk perceptions, historical reconstructions of volcanic eruptions, lahars, PDCs, risk and politics.

The conference itself had opportunities to visit some volcanoes (Chaitén, Calbuco, Osorno and the Laguna del Maule Volcanic Complex) before, during and after the conference. Unfortunately I could not afford any of them but luckily the ones during the conference were included, to visit either Calbuco or Osorno. I chose Calbuco, as it erupted last year. As this was a recent eruption that was on the ‘door step’ of Puerto Varas, it was talked about a lot at the conference. Wired has a nice summary of the activity.

Del Rio J. (2015) Calbuco in eruption, taken in Puerto Varas.

We went to an area that was impacted by lahars, but a year on the rivers/streams have been cleared and artifically transformed, mainly by moving the bigger boulders on the banks. There was a primary school in this area…right under Calbuco to be exact. We walked up the river to a destroyed fish farm. The building was still standing, but was far beyond being operational again with the giant boulders that the lahar carried down. Walking up a little bit more we came to the waterfall in which the lahar came down, it was impressive to see if not slightly unnerving that a vast amount of water filled with volcanic material flowing down the river with such severity. The most interesting part was that we went back to the school and got first hand experiences from a number of individuals from the surrounding villages. The main things that I took away from their experiences were:

  • As farmers, their main priority was to secure their livelihoods. They accepted the risks and did everything they could to save their livestock;
  • For many, this eruption was the first they experienced, so a lot of things were learnt as the eruption of occurring;
  • They were fully aware of their needs, but the government did not and tried to impose what they thought they needed and ignoring what the villages really needed. This frustrated the communities and in the end they had little assistance from the government;
  • Throughout the event and afterwards, they built and maintained community resilience, social cohesion and social networks, key aspects of withstanding hazardous impacts.

Overall, I am so glad I went. I met some great people, learned a lot and have had valuable feedback from those who came to look at my work on the historical impacts of La Soufrière on the agricultural industry. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my work and that I could be a valuable member of the social volcanology community.

I am looking forward to the next one in 2018, when it returns to Naples! Hopefully I will be a stage to give a talk.



Guest blogger on In the Company of Volcanoes

I have done a guest blog post for ‘In the Company of Volcanoes’ introducing my area of historical and social volcanology, have a look:
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog, some awesome stuff by two volcanologists in the States.


Archive adventures in the US

I was in the USA for 2 weeks September-October on a hunt for more archival sources related to the historic eruptions of La Soufrière. I had never been to America before so I got distracted by all the ‘bigness’ of pretty much everything compared to where I grew up and lived in the UK.

I had two aims:

  1. Obtain copies of the diaries of the American Barrister Hugh Keane from the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, VA and;
  2. Obtain field notebook copies of the American Geologist Dr Edmund Hovey from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

I have to say, I was very impressed with what I found.

My first stop was the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. I was well aware of the rich history the city and the state itself so I was expecting great things.

One of the entrances into the Virginia Historical Society archive.
Hugh Keane was a barrister in St Vincent in the early 1800s, but his family had been on the island since the late 1700s. His diary entries were in most part short (and small) but he does write on the 30th April about the beginings of the 1812 eruption.

Interesting, if not annoying to transcribe, handwriting for a diary (Mss1 K197 a 3-30)
Although this is what I came for I did run into a few issues. One is the handwriting, in which I need to take a paleography course at The National Archives in London for (online thankfully). Another was I actually took most of the pages at a wrong angle (oops) making it harder to transcribe. Another is the language and abbreivations he uses. And a big one is that he doesn’t give a day-to-day running commentary on the eruption. Either Hugh was too busy to watch it (he was a barrister during the slavery era) or he got bored of it. Hopefully his entries will provide helpful insights in what the volcanic processes and hazards were, if not to gain an idea what the responses were.

In any case, I got what I went for so I was happy with that. For Edmund Hovey’s collection I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that he was ordered by the American Museum of Natural History to investigate the eruptions of Pelée and Soufrière.

Dr Edmund Hovey was a geologist and at the time, assistant curator in the palaeontology section of the museum.

Statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the entrance of the musuem.
Once I got to the room where the collection was held (after getting briefly lost in the museum naturally), the curator assisting my search showed me the list of what they had. It looked exciting. A small cool collection was artifacts that Edmund brought back from Martinique:

A stack of 9 fused glasses retrieved from St Pierre, Martinique. A pyroclastic density current killed approximately 20,000 people. 1 man survived in a prison cell (AMNH: MPA018).
I got more excited when I opened up the field notebooks:

First page of one of Edmund’s field notebooks (AMNH: Box 2, Item 17)
Anyone who has done a geoscience based degree or course, knows how important a field notebook is. I was quite impressed with the level of detail Edmund went into, like a true geologist: time, date, location, and detailed descriptions of the geology and any hazardous phenomena. If this was part of an assignment today he would get high marks on descriptions but not so much on sketches. At the beginning of each notebook he would also note down the adminstrative hierarchy (Governor, adminstrator, executive council etc.) and if he was accompanied by anyone. The most surprising find for me (and the most critical) was that he interviewed and gathered statements of those who observed volcanic activity. Reading these statements, another very important aspect became apparent, he was including more voices than the ‘white elite’ men. He spoke to black men and women whose voice I had so far not been able to read (granted he called them negroes and negresses but I guess that was the language at the time).

My most favourite statement, that I will share with you all, was from a surviour of a pyroclastic density current that flowed down the eastern flank of the volcano over the Orange Hill Estate House. People survived in a rum cellar, whilst a number died in the corridor leading to the cellar and the estate manager, his wife and nephew died on the verandah.

A cook told me that trash in front of cellar and some of the houses were set on fire by the hot stones. Taylor (who is a very intelligent black man) and the others said that the “cloud rolled down from the Soufriere along the ravines, struck the sea, burst into flames foof, foof, foof, and at once turned back toward the sugar factory striking the building with great force and forcing shut the heavy doors and the heavy wooden shutters of the window openings. Heat was very oppressive. Air suffocating. Smelled of sulphur (rotten eggs, one said). For four or five minutes it seemed as if everyone would die from suffocation and cries for water were heard on all sides. Then the air cleared a bit, though the rain of dust and stones continued”.

From all information gathered from my trip, I can understand the volcanic hazards better: what, where, when and their impacts. They will also help inform impacts on the agricultural and society, where possible.



I like to thank the Royal Geographical Society for funding.