This seminar explores how Americans have experienced and understood some modern disasters in order to answer an essential question: to what extent should medical, social, economic or environmental disasters be considered natural? To answer this question, discussions will focus on the proximal and deep causes of disastrous events. Readings consist of first-hand and popular accounts of disaster, as well as scholarly writings. Topics include cholera, the San Francisco earthquake, the sinking of the Titanic, financial panics and depressions, the atomic bomb, toxic and industrial accidents, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Students will produce a research project on a historical disaster of their choosing. Readings average 100-150 pages per week. The course fulfills the second writing requirement.