Disasters have two historical trajectories, one,natural' in that they involve one or more physical hazards and the other societal in that they are largely culturally determined. They are 'historical' in the sense that both forces change over time. Charting an historical trajectory of vulnerability allows us to compare how skilfully different communities and societies in the past managed all kinds of climatic and seismic risks. A comparative perspective that does not start with the assumption that any one culture's approach is superior to any other's encourages us to learn not only from what people did previously but from what others do now, how especially non-western societies go about disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery in the present. Finally, comparing vulnerabilities also encourages us to see disasters as more than purely destructive events in the short term and also to consider them as transformative agents in the longer term.