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Environment and History

Earthquakes and the Environmental Transformation of a Floodplain Landscape: The Brahmaputra Valley and the Earthquakes of 1897 and 1950

Arupjyoti Saikia

Environment and History 26 (2020): 51-77. doi: 10.3197/096734019X15755402985550

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Two major earthquakes in 1897 and 1950 had a deep impact upon the environment and humans in north-east India. The massive seismic disturbance of 1897 played a crucial role in shaping the physical history of this region. Seismologists have observed that this earthquake holds a 'prominent place among the great earthquakes of the world'. Another earthquake in 1950 disturbed the region's physical setting. This article will examine how these earthquakes transformed the landscape of Assam, and, in so doing, affected the lives and livelihoods of human communities. It will detail the various geological and hydrological consequences of earthquakes, which included the creation of floods, landslides, fissures, sand vents and artificial river dams. It will demonstrate how these changes affected Assamese agriculturalists and fishing communities. In so doing, it will shift the historiography of earthquakes away from a largely urban focus to examine the rural experiences of seismic activity.

KEYWORDS: Brahmaputra, floodplains, agriculture, hills, floods, fish


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