Academic Session 32: RCA 2014

40th Anniversary Conference & Bookfair
Royal College of Art, London
10 - 12 April 2014

Sea Currents: The 19th-century Ocean World

Session Convenors:

Kathleen Davidson University of Sydney
Molly Duggins University of Sydney

Vast and fluid, the oceanic spaces of empire in the 19th century inspired an imaginative and multifaceted aesthetic discourse that intersected with colonial and scientific expansion. From the seashore, which emerged as a site of leisure, liminality and transgression, to the seabed, which was perceived as a perilous but alluring frontier, marine environments captivated contemporary practitioners and audiences alike on a local and global scale.

This session presents a new perspective on the art and history of empire as manifested through maritime traditions. Whereas the oceanic imperium has been viewed in terms of its formal presence and official exchanges across the globe – often with regards to naval power, exploration and navigation – this session will take a closer look at more informal imperial ocean networks. Changing conceptions of the marine world were shaped by increased immigration and maritime trade, steam travel, the fluid circulation of media and technology, the diversification of science, the popularisation of rational entertainment, the rise of spectacular exhibitionary culture, and a gender system in flux.

Taking a comparative approach, this session addresses the intimate encounters and exchanges that occurred across the 19th-century ocean world by and between various individuals and groups, exploring in particular the relationships between different visual, tactile and abstract representations of the marine environment mediated through art, science, architecture, design and craft.

Maura Coughlin (Bryant University) Reading the Wrack Line: Atlantic flow on the Brittany coast

Mary Jane Boland (University of Nottingham) Across the Waves: Maritime communities and identity building in images of ‘colonial’ Ireland, c.1830

Jeong-Yon Ha (University of Edinburgh) ‘Waiting for the Homeward Bound’: Paintings from London in Adelaide, c. 1880-85

Laurie Margot Ross (Cornell University; SSRC 2012-2013 Transregional Research Postdoctoral Fellow) De/mystifying Masks across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans

George Schwartz (Boston University) ‘In Memory of Our Famous Cruise’: Japanese souvenir textiles for American sailors in the context of imperial exchange

Tricia Cusack (Independent Scholar) ‘Direct from the Tea Gardens to the Teapot’: Britannia takes tea

Emma Roberts (Liverpool John Moores University) Fantasy Environments and the Liminal Spaces of Cunard Liners in the 19th Century

Stefanie Lenk (University of Oxford) A European Vision of the Ocean in 1900: The Berlin Oceanography Museum in search of the most innovative display


Back to Session list