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This paper explores the lost history of New England hurricanes and how the “return” of hurricanes challenged understandings of the environmental vulnerabilities of coastal communities and weather. A series of severe New England hurricanes from 1938-1954 forced Rhode Islanders to reassess coastal vulnerabilities and protection strategies. Before the hurricane of ’38, Rhode Islanders lived with the vulnerability of seasonal erosion and winter storms, but believed their state was, and would remain, safe from hurricanes. In a new era of the shore-at-risk, the Army Corps of Engineers re-wrote the forgotten history of coastal dangers. Dense development along Narragansett Bay and the economic incentives to safeguard Providence, Rhode Island’s only large city, led state and federal authorities to address the environmental vulnerabilities wrought by hurricanes. The result was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ pathbreaking analysis of the tidal dynamics of Narragansett Bay. Investigating human responses to coastal environmental threats, this paper reveals the political and engineering histories that attempted to reconcile hurricanes, risk, and coastal vulnerability in the state at midcentury.


Originally published as: Schlichtling, Kara, "Misremembering Risk in the Age of Hurricanes: The Rhode Island Coast in the 1930s-1950s," Coastal Studies and Society, 2021. Copyright © 2021 Kara Schlichtling. DOI:



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