Yushu Earthquake (2010)

Shaking all over: a history of the forgotten earthquakes

California can be proprietary about earthquakes. Northridge, Loma Prieta, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906: These are the building blocks of our cultural identity, part of the heritage of the state.

And yet, it’s an abiding ironies of seismicity that the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the continental United States took place not in California but near the small town of New Madrid, in the Missouri territory, between Dec. 16, 1811 and Feb. 7, 1812.

These quakes are fascinating both because of...