Underwater Worlds: Aquatic Visions in Art, Science, and Literature

Aerial photo of four pairs of hands using different handheld smart devices

'Underwater Worlds: Aquatic Visions in Art, Science and Literature', An interdisciplinary conference at the University of Oxford, 15-16 September 2015.

Keynotes by:

Professor John Mack (University of East Anglia), author of The Sea: A Cultural History (2011).

Professor Christiana Payne (Oxford Brookes University), author of Where the Sea Meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in Nineteenth Century Britain (1998) and The Power of the Sea: Making Waves in British Art 1790-2014 (with Janette Kerr, 2014).

Professor Margaret Cohen (Stanford University), author of The Novel and the Sea (2010) and numerous other works.

Dr Gunda Windmüller (University of Bonn), author of Rushing Into Floods: Staging the Sea in Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century English Drama (2012).

What lies beneath the surface of the water? From sirens and sea monsters to shipwrecks and the drowned city of Atlantis, the unseen depths of oceans, lakes and rivers have formed the canvas for countless imaginative visions and stories. Different cultures have envisioned underwater environments as supernatural forces to be feared, resources to exploit, aesthetic pleasures to be enjoyed and fragile ecosystems to be protected. In the twenty-first century, the on-going endangerment of marine life by human causes such as climate change, overfishing, oil spills and mineral extraction compels us to re-evaluate our relationship with the aquatic world. At the same time, in recent years, rising sea levels, floods and tsunamis have demonstrated in dramatic fashion the vulnerability of our species to changes in the Earth’s water distribution.

In light of these issues, ‘Underwater Worlds’ will examine how humans past and present have imagined and represented aquatic environments through art, literature and other cultural forms. Critical debates about the anthropocene and its sustainability have sparked new interest in representations of nature and humans’ relationships with it. Yet, as Dan Brayton notes in Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), the majority of ecocriticism has been ‘green’, centred on dry land, neglecting the ‘blue planet’ which covers most of the Earth. At the same time, research into representations of rivers and seas has often focussed on the surfaces traversed by humans rather than the invisible spaces beneath. This conference aims to probe beneath the surface, exploring how underwater environments have been imagined, idealized, feared and elided.

For more information, see the conference web site http://underwaterworlds.net/.


Humanities & Science

Literature and Science Early Career Researchers' Forum

Contact name: Will Abberley

Contact email: william.abberley@ell.ox.ac.uk

Website: Underwater Worlds

Audience: Open to all