Oceanic Imaginaries

Oceanic Imaginaries is a new, multi-year initiative that adopts the world’s oceans as an analytical framework for advancing cross-regional, interdisciplinary research on timely global topics.

The 2022-23 academic year will focus on the Indian Ocean, featuring courses, lectures, exhibits, screenings, and performances that engage with the societies, cultures, geographies, and histories of the Indian Ocean world.

Advisory Committee

Nora Barakat

Assistant Professor of History

Anna Bigelow

Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for South Asia

Lisa Blaydes

Professor of Political Science, Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Joel Cabrita

Joel Cabrita

Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Center for African Studies

Margaret Cohen

Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization and Professor, by courtesy, of French and Italian and of Comparative Literature

Grant Parker

Associate Professor of Classics

Krish Seetah

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Mudit Trivedi

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Ali Yaycioglu

Associate Professor of History

Featured Courses

GLOBAL 112: Oceans and the Global Imaginary
Krish Seetah, Spring 2023

This course brings together various social, climatic, and ecological perspectives to seek a better understanding of the relationships between people and the sea. Our oceans constitute some 70% of the surface area of our planet; they connect continents, countless islands, and form a universal link between geographically vast regions and culturally diverse peoples. Our oceans are critical to the health of our planet, and to humanity, and it is this interdependent relationship that forms the basis of this course. Taking a genuinely global viewpoint, we will explore the dynamic nature of peoples' interactions with their maritime landscape and seascape. The course will draw on a wide range of social science and natural science data and approaches to assess how we traversed and explored the seas; how the seas have been an enduring source of nutrition; and how they have come to garner immense social and cultural significance to peoples around the world. The course looks at the unique features of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, using case studies from each, while drawing lines that connect these vast oceanic basins. Ultimately, the course emphasizes the challenges facing our oceans as humanity's impact reaches unprecedented levels and considers how people and oceans in partnership might help mitigate the damage climate change has wrought on our planet. Learn more.

HISTORY 8S: Whales, Bombs, & the Race to the Bottom: Oceanic Histories of Law, Environmentalism, & Human Rights
Sonya Schoenberger, Spring 2023

Oceans cover two thirds of the world's surface and play a vital role in global carbon storage, biodiversity, and food stocks. But who owns the oceans and their resources? And what rights and duties do countries, corporations, and individuals have at sea? In this course, we will examine histories of commercial fishing and whaling, nuclear testing, seabed mining, human rights at sea, and sea-level rise as avenues for understanding developments in international law over the course of the 20th century. Learn more.

ILAC 218: Shipwrecks and Backlands: Getting Lost in Literature
Nicole T. Hughes, AY 2023-24

This course takes students on a journey through tales of getting lost in the Portuguese and Spanish empires. We will read harrowing stories of being caught adrift at sea and mystical interpretations of island desertion. The course begins with sea-dominated stories of Portuguese voyages to Asia, Africa, and Brazil then turns to how the Amazon and the sertão, or backlands, became a driving force of Brazilian literature. Official historians, poets, and novelists imbued the ocean and the backlands with romanticism, yet these spaces were the backdrop to slavery and conquest. Instead of approaching shipwreck and captivity narratives as eyewitness testimonies, as many have, we will consider how they produced 'the sea' and 'the wilderness' as poetic constructions in Western literature while also offering glimpses of the 'darker side' of Iberian expansion. Taught in English with all texts offered both in English and the original Portuguese or Spanish. Optional guest lectures in Portuguese. Learn more.


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