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The Oceanic Turn in the Long Eighteenth Century: Beyond Disciplinary Territories

Conference Description:

Bodies of water increasingly represent utopian possibilities for transcending the boundaries that distinguish peoples, territories, typologies and discourses in the global eighteenth century. This “oceanic turn” or “New Thalassology” in current critical studies is characterized by a disciplinary fluidity that is potentially liberating, even as it threatens to overwhelm “oceanic” studies with its sheer expansiveness. In exploring the distinctive aspects of ocean worlds and their fluid discourses, what can we learn about the divisions of knowledge during the long eighteenth century, both those codified into nineteenth century professions and sciences, and those no longer visible according to our modern categories?  By shifting our focus to the maritime and the oceanic, can we rediscover alternative disciplinary traditions and trajectories?  

This conference addresses how the maritime worlds and discourses of the long eighteenth century can help us rethink the divisions of knowledge emerging in this era. Engaging scholars working on maritime history, literature, history of science, cartography, geography, museum studies and cultural studies, the conference maps two current debates (the “oceanic turn,” and the fate of the disciplines) onto a particular time and space (eighteenth-century maritime worlds) that played a central role in shaping modern disciplinarity. We aim to defamiliarize traditional narratives of disciplinarity by shifting the debate to oceanic spaces, people, and discourses. One of the panels will be devoted to the circumpolar Arctic Ocean, largely neglected by humanists even within the new oceanic turn, but increasingly of interest since the Enlightenment era, when the unique natural, social and aesthetic properties of this region encircling an ocean gained widespread attention.