This paper outlines an innovative method for the study of disasters in early modern societies that combines cultural and socio-institutional approaches. It begins with a close examination of a sample of accounts, reports and pleas regarding two calamities – the 1667 Dalmatia earthquake and the 1687 Lima earthquake – and how they were processed in the institutional channels of the Spanish monarchy. These sources are analysed with attention to the goals, interests and perspectives of the institutional and social actors that produced or sponsored them. As such, the images and narrative techniques embedded in them reveal the messages the authors sought to convey in order to justify their own conduct while discrediting that of their adversaries. The study of how information was exchanged in the aftermath of such distressing events allows us to see how authoritative narratives were constructed and to trace their larger effects. It also allows for a comprehensive understanding of how strategies were developed to manage social crises.
Keywords: disasters, Spanish monarchy, emergency management, political communication.