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TTLT: Disasterology is What Public Scholarship Looks Like

Disasterology is the public scholarship site of Samantha Montano, an assistant professor of emergency management & disaster science at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

It’s great. It has much of everything public scholarship should have — the bones of a one-stop shop for translating research into timely, jargon-free insights and solutions that decision makers and other non-specialists can actually apply. It is not another damn lab page. Montano obviously means business about filling the gap between academics, practice, activism and the public. And when you consider that “emergency management & disaster science” include, as she puts it:

Disaster recovery, disaster nonprofits, community organizing, emergent groups (particularly during recovery), climate change & emergency management, disaster theory and theory construction, gender and disasters, emergency management higher education programs, disaster mitigation, preparedness for recovery, disaster volunteerism, media & disasters, and communicating disaster science to the public.

then Disasterology becomes a potentially critical and interesting resource for everyone.

The site includes:

  • Montano’s blog;
  • Links to Montano’s writing for non-specialist media (ranging from the Washington Post to Scientific American to City Lab to Vox and more);
  • Links to interviews with Montano (NPR, Forbes, Vox, PRI, the Dukes of Hazards podcast, etc.)
  • Videos of Montano’s top recommendations for different genres of books on disasters — ranging from academic to historic non-fiction to disaster capitalism and emergency management privatization;
  • Videos of Montano’s major speeches.

Three observations: First & immediately, Disasterology reflects a multi-channel, multi-format approach to building audiences for Montano’s research authority. Writing, social, video, talks, podcasts (all in addition to a book): this is the range of outreach research authority today needs to embrace. She’s living the Clay Shirkey quote about the future of journalism — that “nothing will work, but everything might.”

Second: Montano’s writing — opinionated, engaged, immediate, with an impressive instinct for white space and applying her expertise to the questions media and others aren’t answers — is perfect for the task of attracting and building non-specialist audiences.

Example: read her hilarious and consistently on-point post from two years ago on David Wallace-Wells now-famous very scary and controversial New York Magazine article on the potential consequences of climate change. You can see why she’s getting a ton of writing assignments for big media outlets.

If I had a nit to pick, it would be that she’s not writing enough for Disasterology and turning the site itself into a resource — original pieces, let’s say, on the five biggest myths in emergency management, or the five or 10 most important things people don’t understand about how people create and perpetuate “natural” disasters (similar to her Five Myths on floods piece for the Washington Post). One of the best resources public scholarship can do is create appealing and findable content such as listicles that reorient your audience’s paradigm quickly in line with what you know as an expert. Even though a Twitter thread gives researchers more response and interaction, it’s not a findable resource.

Third: Disasterology serves as a personal branding vector for Montano, and that’s absolutely necessary for success as a public intellectual today.

Disasterology isn’t disembodied from Montano — it is Montano as research authority: her applied expertise, her opinions, her voice, her urgency about disasters and related issues. This approach might still make a lot of academics uncomfortable. But in an age where branding is individual, not organizational, public scholarship can’t be practiced anonymously. The more capital Montano builds for her personal brand, the bigger the platforms she’ll get to make a material difference through her research and research expertise.

The future of research authority and public scholarship looks a lot like what Montano is trying to do here.