The New Madrid earthquakes shook much of North America in the winter of 1811–1812. Accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes originally were collected and employed as scientific evidence in the early nineteenth century. These early accounts were largely ignored when scientific instruments promised more quantitative and exact knowledge. Years later the earthquakes themselves became both more important and less understood because of changes in scientific models. Today, so-called intraplate or stable continental region earthquakes pose a significant problem in seismology. Historical accounts of the New Madrid events offer some of the most significant examples upon which researchers can draw and form the basis for debates over present public policy. The changing function of accounts, from narrative elements of widely-shared scientific discussion, to raw data, and back into wide-ranging conversation once again, demonstrates both deep ruptures and surprising continuities during two centuries of understanding the earth and its movement.
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