Date of Degree

2-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Cindi Katz

Keywords

aquarium, transparency, immersion, Victorian, empire

Abstract

This thesis is a cultural history and analysis of the constructions and representations of nature through the apparatus of the saltwater aquarium, which I argue is historically embedded in forms of biocapitalist control that produce knowledge, difference and enclosure, and mediates a form of pedagogy used to extend empire into the ocean. I look to the origins of hobby and public aquariums in Victorian England to comprehend how imperial management of pristine environments gave rise to the aquariums that we know today. The marine aquarium examined here is a Western entity that reduces the world to dichotomies and oversimplifies vast non-human ecologies. This project draws attention not to renderings of unspoiled territories, but to the extractive practices of the tank and asks what kinds of connections to nature it has built, both by and for whom. The aquarium thus becomes a vehicle for examining strands of critical inquiry concerned with undoing or redoing divisions between nature and culture, humans and non-humans, and the real and its representation. This thesis attempts to understand the aquarium through a number of disciplines including geography, anthropology, philosophy, post-colonial studies, gender studies, animal studies, visual studies and more that have contributed to certain perceptions of the world, its complex and fluid environments, and our shared relations. To add to the growing literature in the field of “blue humanities” as well as to address urgent ethical and environmental concerns, unpacking the aquarium is a truly transdisciplinary task.

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