In the United States, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, California, is remembered as a foundational moment for seismology. The earthquake led to the widespread acceptance among American geologists that strike-slip motion – the horizontal movement of fault blocks – could not be ignored as a major type of fault motion. It is also remembered for its human impact, including the heightened discrimination and legal exclusion experienced Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the city. However, the earthquake did not occur in a vacuum. First and foremost, American scientific response to the 1906 earthquake drew upon the existing work from European and Japanese seismologists. I show this to be the case by first examining the international scientific interactions that produced two new theories after the 1906 earthquake: (1) the Geological Society of America’s proposed fault nomenclature changes in 1913, and (2) the theory of elastic rebound. In doing so, I argue that each theory’s ability to become an international standard was dependent on how convincing it was to a nation’s scientists against that particular nation’s geological conventions. Second, I argue that the cultural divisions experienced among Chinese, Japanese, and European Americans in the city were closely linked to much broader national identities and movements of nationalism. Examining attempts by nativists to exclude these immigrant groups, including the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 and attempts to relocate Chinatown outside of downtown San Francisco, as well the immigrants’ reaction to these attempts, I argue that the earthquake strengthened the national identities of each group. Although these scientific and cultural interactions seem unrelated, the fact that they were both limited by national identities shows that nationalism continued to be relevant, even if the disaster happened on a global scale.


Ng, Margaret

Second Advisor

Crawford, Alex


Geology; History


Asian History | Geology | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Tectonics and Structure


seismology, 1906 earthquake, san francisco, san andreas fault, international science, history of science, earthquakes, earthquake, omori, lawson, reid, milne

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2018 Brandon B. Bell