Understanding the Human Story

Carolina Ph.D. candidate researches why people live in disaster-prone regions.

Sarah Torgeson smiling

Carolina Ph.D. candidate researches why people live in disaster-prone regions.

When Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 2005, Sarah Torgeson, then 13 years old, evacuated her hometown of Waveland. Upon return after the storm, she described her hometown as a dead zone. She watched as her 71-year-old grandfather navigated the hurricane and began to wonder about aging adults and their systems of support during environmental disasters.

Now, as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of American Studies at Carolina, she’s researching why people live in disaster-prone regions and how they plan for future disasters based on their experiences.

“I realized I could use history to explore this topic that meant a lot to me and our family and how useful history was for understanding where we are now,” Torgeson said.

Torgeson is a recipient of the Chatterjee Family Summer Research Fellowship, which allows her to conduct digital archival research this summer. Specifically, she’s reviewing archives, such as oral histories and federal hearings following Hurricane Katrina, to explore topics and to prepare her for future community-based research. She said the fellowship has given her much-needed time to focus more in depth on her research.

“Storytelling can be a part of community life,” Torgeson said. “With disasters, we often get stuck on statistics and numbers, and I think the human story is really important.”

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