Calendar of Events

Spring 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014
Stefan Helmreich (Anthropology, MIT)
The Water Next Time: Changing Wavescapes in the Anthropocene
3:30 pm Curtin 118

Do ocean waves have a history?

The question may sound odd: surely waves are simple facts of nature, matters of the substance of the sea. Waves may have diverse manifestations in marine and maritime lore, a variety of effects on economic and political enterprise, and a range of meanings for fishers, surfers, and swimmers. But as formal and material entities, the standard view might say, they are best known by a science arriving at ever-improving models of oscillation, undulation, and movement. Historians of oceanography have complicated such a view, documenting the changing systems through which scientists and seafarers have known waves.

Stefan Helmreich's presentation will go further, looking toward a future in which waves are not only known differently (through new kinds of computer modeling, for example) but also become differently composed material phenomena than once they were. Today's wave scientists and modelers are predicting that climate change may not only transform the global distribution of significant wave heights, but may also (though the claim is controversial) amplify the frequency of rogue or freak waves, changing the world's wavescape in novel ways. Helmreich will deliver a history of ocean wave modeling in order to anchor an ethnographic report on how scientists think about whether waves (canonically imagined as not evolving, not decaying, but repeating, periodic—cyclical avatars of the ceaseless sea) may be transforming in synchrony with the political, economic, and social scene of the Anthropocene.

NOAA waves NOAA/NCEP WAVEWATCH III Ocean Waves in Marinexplore Data Studio

Brown bag lunch discussion
Friday, April 4
12 noon Curtin 939
Reading: Stefan Helmreich, "Nature/Culture/Seawater," American Anthropologist 113, no. 1 (2011): 132-44.


Stefan Helmreich is the Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research examines the works and lives of biologists thinking through the limits of "life" as a category of analysis. His book, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009), is a study of marine biologists working in realms usually out of sight and reach: the microscopic world, the deep sea, and oceans outside national sovereignty.



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