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Volcanic eruptions can affect everything – nature, wildlife, people. From the earliest times, human resilience has been tested by this most severe environmental hazard resulting in a variety of collective responses – from despair and helplessness to endurance, increased worship of the gods, and even mass migrations. Past vulnerability breaks new ground by examining the histories of extreme environmental events, from the resent eruptions of Mount Merapi in Central Java to the prehistoric Toba supervolcanic eruption 74,000 years ago on the island of Sumatra. Experts from a broad and unconventional range of disciplines – from anthropology to literature studies and from archaeology to theology – discuss the impacts of volcanic eruptions in human history and prehistory. Past Vulnerability sets the scene for a 'palaeosocial volcanology' that complements and extends current approaches to volcanic hazards in the natural and social sciences by presenting historically informed and evidence-based analyses on how traditional societies dealt with these dangers – or failed to do so.