Staring out to Sea

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Perkiss is currently writing Staring out to Sea: The Power and Politics of Hurricane Sandy on the Jersey Shore (Cornell University Press, 2018). The book is an outgrowth of a longitudinal oral history project, Staring out to Sea, documenting the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coastline.

The Book

On October 29, 2012, a devastating storm struck the New Jersey coastline. The state braced for inevitable destruction, with memories of Hurricane Katrina echoing through the public imagination. The storm bore down on the state for two days, leaving extensive and long-lasting damage in its wake. Ultimately, Hurricane Sandy left 186 dead from the Caribbean to Canada, at least 650,000 houses damaged or destroyed in the United States, and, as of 2013, an estimated $37 billion in damage across New Jersey. Significantly, it also catalyzed a network of relationships as victims, volunteers, and state and federal agencies came together to rebuild communities.

Sandy caused catastrophic damage across the state of New Jersey, but the effects of that damage were uneven. At first, communities everywhere believed that government support was imminent. But then year-round residents in working-class shore towns watched the rebuilding of tourist areas as their streets remained broken. Small business owners fought for FEMA relief while large corporations saw money pour in. The homeless and dispossessed relied on the support of out-of-state volunteers while waiting for insurance checks that never came. As these disparate outcomes unfolded, the true economic impact of the storm became clear.

This book documents the uneven recovery of Hurricane Sandy along the Jersey coastline. Relying on interviews conducted over the span of more than two years, from 2013-2015, it chronicles the experiences of the residents, business owners, politicians and policymakers, volunteers and relief workers, and the state and federal agencies that were charged with supporting and managing these efforts. More fundamentally, this work explores issues of power, access, and representation in the wake of natural disaster. How do we respond to such devastation? What is the role of government in providing relief? What is the role of civil society? Of individuals? How do socioeconomic indicators affect recovery efforts? Whose voices matter?

The Oral Histories

This project was developed through an undergraduate seminar on advanced oral history methods in the spring of 2013. The website was created by Dan Royles‘ digital humanities students at Stockton College and enhanced by Kean University computer programming students.

In 2015, Perkiss won the annual New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance Teaching Award, for her work on Staring out to Sea.

 Perkiss with students Trudi Lawrence, Mary Piasecki, and Brittany Le Strange

Course Description:

How do we document people’s lived experiences? What role can historians play in the process of capturing those stories? What is the relationship between an individual story and a national story? How do we make sense of the link between oral history and historical memory? These are some of the questions that we will consider as we embark on the Hurricane Sandy Oral History Project. Our goal this semester will be to begin the process of developing and implementing a large-scale oral history project to collect the stories of those impacted by the storm. Over the next sixteen weeks, we will explore the history, methodology, and process of oral history, and we will serve as primary investigators, entering the field to conduct interviews.

In the News:

Oral History Projects Document Hurricane Sandy, Perspectives on History, October 2013

Kean Students Cultivate Important Bonds through Oral History

Remembering Superstorm Sandy after One Year

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