(I am thankful I chose to answer questions of methodology AFTER we had class discussion. I am also thankful to be in the company of a number of other cultural historians.)
I see myself primarily as a cultural historian, as I am focusing on the ways in which people perceive of and understand disasters in the United States. Moreover, in this particular project, I am making an argument regarding a larger disaster culture in the United States, and how that culture in turn shaped how individuals and communities react to and remember disaster. My research also seems to fall at an intersection with social history, because class relations certainly shape the ways in which people make sense of disaster. This class analysis will be useful in combination with a spatial perspective, as the region in which the Palmertown Tragedy occurred has a very specific class demographic in comparison to the nation as a whole.
The theory of cultural hegemony could prove considerably suited to my research because I will be analyzing news media—local, national, and international—and the ways in which news from outside the region reports on/describes Saltville and the disaster will certainly be shaped by dominant cultural ideas.
Additionally I will consider the Four Theories of Disaster, as FEMA has laid out in their Emergency Management guides, and as other historians have used in their works on disasters. These theories include: Acts of God—or Fate; Acts of Nature—Physical Events; Intersection of Society and Nature; Avoidable Human Constructions. These theories are most often cited as the causes of disaster, and one or more of these theories no doubt informs perceptions of disaster. Furthermore, these theories have not been accepted simultaneously, but rather, have been modified as greater understanding and information of disasters have evolved or been discovered over time. Discovering which of these theories were accepted at the time and by the observers or reporters of the Palmertown Tragedy is imperative to better understanding the ways in which public perceptions were formed.
This methodology shaped the questions I want to ask by providing the framework to look at culture through public perceptions to disaster events and dominant cultural ideas about causation, blame, and vulnerability.