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Descriptions and disciplines in the ocean: defining the perspective of oceanography in the 1920s

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In 1927, the naturalist William Beebe led an expedition to the coral reefs of Haiti. Beebe – a zoo curator, naturalist and a writer, was a well known figure who used his vividly written books about field researches to attract funding. I look at his oceanographic field work in order to juxtapose visual technologies with the debates about methods and disciplines in the study of the ocean, as his expedition coincided with important efforts by other researchers to re-shape and re-new oceanography. Beebe’s pursuit of an underwater perspective with diving hood, camera and underwater painting was self-consciously both modernist and nostalgic, a technoscientific spectacle. The new possibilities of visual access to underwater worlds revealed the growing distance between different kinds of scientific research and between public and expert audiences. But they also help pinpoint the core of the debates about the ocean sciences, the placelessness of a global science.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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