JCB Fellow's Talk: Michele Navakas

August 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

Michele Navakas (Miami University of Ohio), Charles H. Watts Memorial Fellow, "Coral in Early American Literature, Science, and Culture"

Early America was a place where coral was commonly encountered—as jewelry, beads, reef specimens, and other objects—and almost always more than merely ornamental. Using items in the John Carter Brown Library’s collections, this presentation will show that early Americans were immersed in worldwide, oceanic circulations of goods, bodies, and ideas—from Africa, the South Seas, and Europe—that brought new conceptual taxonomies of coral to the early United States. According to these taxonomies, coral defied biological boundaries between plant and animal, subject and object, and even living and non-living, ultimately prompting early Americans toward an ecological vision of all matter as dynamic, interconnected, and constituted by forces both human and nonhuman. It is widely known that coral’s worldwide disappearance has ecological consequences, but early American songs, poems, essays, and stories of coral reveal that the loss of this natural material also means the irreparable loss of a vibrant, even politically significant, way of thinking about our relation and responsibility to the world and other persons.

 The Reading Room will close to researchers at 3:30 p.m.