The Underwater Realm

Stanford Humanities Center hosts:

How has the underwater environment been represented and imagined in Western science and the arts since the Englightenment? The ‘Underwater Realm” workshop brings together scholars from across the world for an intensive, one-day consideration of this question, examining media ranging from scientific documents to popular film and TV.





Stacy Alaimo

Science, Aesthetics and William Beebe’s Elusive Seas

Stacy Alaimo is Professor of English and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her publications include Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space (Cornell 2000); Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Indiana UP 2010), which won the Association for Literature and Environment book award; and Material Feminisms (Indiana UP 2008), which she co-edited. She has published many essays on science studies, cultural studies, American literature, feminist theory, and new materialism, ranging from queer animal studies to anthropocene feminisms.  Her essays appear in Queer Ecologies, Prismatic Ecologies, Material Ecocriticism, Thinking with Water, and the PMLA. She has served on the MLA Division of Literature and Science, and the inaugural committee of the new MLA forum for the Environmental Humanities.  She currently editing Matter, for the Gender series of MacMillian Interdisciplinary Handbooks, and is writing two books, Protest and Pleasure: New Materialism, Environmental Activism, and Feminist Exposure and Blue Ecologies: Science, Aesthetics, and the Creatures of the Abyss.

Margaret Cohen

Counting Down: Undersea Suspense

Margaret Cohen teaches in the Departments of Comparative Literature and English at Stanford University where she holds the Andrew B. Hammond Chair in French Language, Literature, and Civilization. Her recent research has focused on the marine humanities, including The Novel and the Sea (2010) and a book in progress on the impact of the modern underwater frontier on literature and the visual arts. Other books include Profane Illumination and The Sentimental Education of the Novel

Ann Elias

The Lure of Underwater Space at Coral Reefs in the Early Twentieth Century

Ann Elias is Associate Professor in Critical Studies at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney.  Her books include Useless Beauty: Flowers and Australian Art (2015) and Camouflage Australia: art, nature, science and war (2011). Journal articles are included in Papers of Surrealism, Leonardo, and Antennae. In preparation is a new book about underwater vision and the colonial tropics.

Jonathan Lamb

Coralline Structures and the Aesthetics of Dazzle

Jonathan Lamb is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Vanderbilt University.  His most recent book is The Things Things Say (2011) and currently he is finishing another called Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery. For the last three years he has been collaborating with Iain McCalman of the Sydney Environment Institute and Margaret Cohen of Stanford University on projects associated with the undersea.

Iain McCalman

Coral Life Aquatic: Underwater Discovery and the Transformation of Great Barrier Reef Marine Science

Iain McCalman was born in Nyasaland in 1947, schooled in Zimbabwe and did his higher education in Australia. His last book, Darwin’s Armada (Penguin, 2009) won three prizes and was the basis of the TV series, Darwin’s Brave New World. He is a Fellow of three Learned Academies and is a former President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He was Director of the Humanities Research Centre, ANU, from 1995-2002 and won the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Prize at ANU for Teaching Excellence. He is a former Federation Fellow and currently a Research Professor in history at the University of Sydney and co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, was published by Penguin in Australia in 2013 and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014. He was made Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007 for services to history and the humanities.

Mary “Mel” McCombie

Mel McCombie recently retired from serving for twelve years as co-director of the American Studies Graduate Program at Trinity College in Hartford, where she used visual culture as the window onto social history. She has also taught at Smith College, Wesleyan University, and the University of Connecticut. In 2011-12, McCombie taught at The American University in Cairo as a Fulbright Fellow. She earned her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College in history and history of art; her M.A. from Stanford University in art history; and her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in art history. She is the author of “Art Appreciation at Caesars Palace” (Routledge, 2001), many articles of art reviews and criticism for ArtNews, The Women’s Art Review, and various newspapers; and writes regularly on underwater travel and photography.

McCombie may be the only member of the American Studies Association who is also a Divemaster with the Professional Association of Dive Instructors. She serves on the Board of Directors of REEF Education and Environmental Foundation (REEF). She also teaches the history of photography, and includes sections on underwater photography in her courses. McCombie has studied underwater photography with Christopher Newbert and Stan Waterman, and writes about photography and diving for Undercurrent magazine.

Killian Quigley

Robert Boyle, Picturesque Invisibility, and the Oceanic Sublime

Killian Quigley is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. For the current academic year, he is teaching at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, in France.

Hanna Roman

Geological Oceans and Historical Oceans in Diderot and D’Alemberts’ Encyclopédie

Hanna Roman is the Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Eighteenth Century French Studies, from 2014-2017, in the Department of French and Italian and Vanderbilt University. Her current project focuses on the Histoire naturelle of the count of Buffon, tracing the poetic strategies inherent to scientific activity in the French Enlightenment, from the first volume of the Histoire naturelle, in 1749, to its final great supplementary text, the Époques de la nature (1778). She has published several articles on the Histoire naturelle as well as on the Marquis de Condorcet and the invention of fictional worlds.

Helen Rozwadowski

The Ocean Frontier and its Legacy

Helen M. Rozwadowski is Associate Professor of History and Maritime Studies at the University of Connecticut, teaching mainly at the University’s marine and maritime campus, Avery Point. Her book, Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea (2005), won the History of Science Society’s Davis Prize for best book directed to a wide public audience. She has written a history of 20th century marine science, The Sea Knows No Boundaries (2002), and co-edited two volumes, The Machine in Neptune’s Garden: Perspectives on Technology and the Marine Environment (2004) and Extremes: Oceanography’s Adventures at the Poles (2007). She is the author of numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes on the ocean and history of science.  She is currently working on a cultural history of the ocean from prehistory to the present, and is also working on a project studying undersea exploration in the 1950s and 1960s tentatively titled “Always the Last Frontier.” 

Alistair Sponsel

Coral Reefs since Cook: From Threatening to Threatened

Alistair Sponsel is Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He specializes in the history of science and exploration since the Enlightenment. His current research is focused on two interrelated projects: Charles Darwin's early career and the history of ocean science. From 2009 to 2012 he managed the U.S. branch of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Harvard University. His book Darwin's First Theory will be published by University of Chicago Press. A second book will trace the cultural and environmental history of coral reefs, examining how a natural phenomenon once viewed as a menace to human activity came to be seen as inherently fragile.

Franziska Torma

The Aquatic Sublime? Diving, filming and sensuous geographies of the underwater world

Franziska Torma is Assistant Professor (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin) at the University of Augsburg.  She studied history and theater studies in Munich and Bochum. In 2009 she completed her PhD, which focused on German scientific expeditions that described and mapped Central Asia between 1890 and 1930.  She was a Research Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (LMU Munich and Deutsches Museum Munich) from 2009 to 2013. She has published on the history of mountaineering, animal protection issues in Africa, and colonialism with special reference to Germany’s colonial culture and ideology. Her research interests include the history of science, the cultural and environmental history of the nineteenth and twentieth century, postcolonial studies and approaches of the "spatial turn." She is currently researching a project detailing the influence of the oceans on human environments in the period 1850-2000, with particular emphasis on their impact on politics, society, science and culture.

Kirsten Wehner

Out of the Ocean: Towards a cultural history of seaweed in Australia

Dr Kirsten Wehner is Head Curator, People and the Environment, at the National Museum of Australia ( She was previously Content Director for the Museum’s Landmarks (2011) and Journeys (2009) galleries and the Circa theatre (2008), and has recently contributed to the major temporary exhibition, Spirited: Australia’s horse story (2014-5). Kirsten’s research focuses on place and environmental histories, re-interpreting natural history collections and the potential for museums in building ecological understanding. Her publications include Curating the Future: Museums, communities and climate change (forthcoming 2015, with Libby Robin and Jennifer Newell) and Landmarks: A history of Australia in 33 Places (2013, with Martha Sear and Daniel Oakman). Kirsten is a member of the Mellon Australia-Pacific Observatory in Environmental Humanities and a professional associate of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra.

Linda Williams

A Tide in the Affairs of Men: Modern oceans as imaginary sites of transformation, empathy and tenderness.

Linda Williams is Associate Professor of Art, Environment and Cultural Studies in the School of Art at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology where she leads the AEGIS research network. Linda is a key researcher at the HfE Mellon Observatory at the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney and is currently president of ASLEC-ANZ (Association for the study of Literature, Environment and Culture Australia & New Zealand). She recently led an Australian Research Council Linkage Project: Spatial Dialogues- Public Art & Climate Change which looked at the cultural and material significance of rivers in three cities in the Asia-Pacific region: Melbourne, Shanghai and Tokyo, and in 2015 she has been invited to be an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Her research is focused on the interdisciplinary fields of the environmental humanities and studies in human-animal relations - particularly histories of the longue durée, and the contemporary issues of climate change and mass species extinction. Her work on social theory, historical sociology and European philosophy responds to specific historical questions such as the ontological status of the animal and the nonhuman world in human history, and the connections between cultural history, science and technology.  She also has a particular interest in 17th century studies. Her publications can be accessed at:

Josh Wodak

“Let Me Take You Down: The Representation of Underwater Worlds In Art”

Dr Josh Wodak is Associate Lecturer at the Faculty of Art and Design, University of New South Wales. A transdisciplinary artist and researcher of climate change and the Anthropocene, his work explores synthetic biology and climate engineering as the micro and macro responses to intentionally design away the Anthropocene’s climate-by-accident. Formally trained in Visual Anthropology (University of Sydney) and Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Research (Australian National University), his work has been presented as performances, installations and exhibitions in art galleries, museums and festivals across Australia and internationally.



Visualizing the Oceans (Stanford Humanities Center and the Stanford Art Institute)
Vanderbilt University
The Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney



For information on this workshop, or the Vizualizing the Oceans project, you may email marinehumanitiesinfo [at] (marinehumanitiesinfo[at]stanford[dot]edu).

Margaret Cohen is the primary investigator for Stanford's "Visualizing the Oceans" and this workshop. Her most recent book is The Novel and the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), which was awarded the Louis R. Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the George and Barbara Perkins Prize from the International Society for the Study of the Narrative. Her current research investigates the impact of innovations in science and technology on literary and visual fantasies of the depths, since the opening of the underwater environment as a frontier of modernity in the middle of the nineteenth century.