A welcome dive into the world of aquarium craft that offers much-needed knowledge about undersea environments.
Atlantic coral is rapidly disappearing in the wild. To save the species, they will have to be reproduced quickly in captivity, and so for the last decade conservationists have been at work trying to preserve their lingering numbers and figure out how to rebuild once-thriving coral reefs from a few survivors. Captive environments, built in dedicated aquariums, offer some hope for these corals. This book examines these specialized tanks, charting the development of tank craft throughout the twentieth century to better understand how aquarium modelling has enhanced our knowledge of the marine environment.
Aquariums are essential to the way we understand the ocean. Used to investigate an array of scientific questions, from animal behaviour to cancer research and climate change, they are a crucial factor in the fight to mitigate the climate disaster already threatening our seas. To understand the historical development of this scientific tool and the groups that have contributed to our knowledge about the ocean, Samantha Muka takes up speciality systems – including photographic aquariums, kriesel tanks (for jellyfish), and hatching systems – to examine the creation of ocean simulations and their effect on our interactions with underwater life. Lively and engaging, Oceans under Glass offers a fresh history of how the aquarium has been used in modern marine biology and how integral it is to knowing the marine world.
Series Foreword: Oceans in Depth
1. Aquarium Craft: Replicating Oceans under Glass
2. Photography Tanks: Viewing Oceans under Glass
3. Kreisel Tanks: Crafting Movement under Glass
4. Reef Tanks: Building Ecosystems under Glass
5. Breeding Tank Systems: Closing the Cycle under Glass
Conclusion: “You Are the Ocean”: Scaling Up Oceans under Glass
Samantha Muka is an assistant professor of science, technology, and society in the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in academic publications as well as popular outlets including the Atlantic, Slate, American Scientist, and Scientific American.
"Muka uses the tools of both historian and sociologist [...] following patents, mentions, and citations through scientific and hobbyist literature. She also shadows and interviews practitioners in various aquarium settings to uncover the wide array of contributors to marine-biological knowledge production and to follow that knowledge through the 'permeable boundaries' of the aquarium's various communities. The result provides a fascinating and thoughtful elucidation of the history of aquariums as an environmental technology and of public aquarists as 'knowledge couriers' between communities."
"Samantha Muka's lively and thoughtful account of twentieth-century aquaria teaches us about everything from 'tank craft' maker culture to the politics of ocean simulations. Bring your childhood field trip memories and leave with a richer historical appreciation of the tinkering, the unlikely collaborations, and the artistic and scientific visions and tensions necessary to put marine life convincingly and usefully under glass."
– Karen Rader, Virginia Commonwealth University
"At long last, a book dedicated to the nonstandard art of tinkering with oceans. Skillfully moving from one tank type to the next, Oceans under Glass traces the multiple networks, disciplines, and methods involved in producing situated knowledges about marine life. No wonder, then, that author Samantha Muka is herself brilliantly adept in the art of tinkering. Engaging a variety of methodologies, from ethnography to archival research, and working across multiple disciplines, including science and technology studies and biological and environmental history, Muka sketches a loving bricolage of tank crafters and their work in shaping future oceans. Kudos to Muka, and kudos also to the University of Chicago Press for putting out a much-needed interdisciplinary series on oceans."
– Irus Braverman, author of Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink
"In Oceans under Glass, Muka reveals in vivid and loving detail how the 'tank craft' of aquarium keepers has illuminated life under the ocean's surface, while she also celebrates the diverse network of aquarists, past and present, who have developed that craft. She shows how these little-known technical tinkerers, caregivers to delicate marine organisms, hobbyists, and professional researchers have shared their hard-won fingertip knowledge across social divides in order to make aquariums habitable for their denizens and gain knowledge otherwise inaccessible to us land dwellers. The project innovatively brings together historical, technical, ethnographic, and sociological information and analysis to point to the fundamental importance of aquarium craft to our understanding of life in the ocean, which is ultimately essential to save it from human-caused destruction. The message is important and timely, the book a promising launch for Chicago's new Oceans in Depthseries."
– Lynn K. Nyhart, University of Wisconsin-Madison