Oceanic New England explores what Herman Melville called the “watery part of the world.” This collaboratively curated exhibition challenges surface-level understandings of the sea in order to pursue a deeper engagement with its multiple histories. Spanning the long nineteenth century, the exhibition reveals the Atlantic Ocean to be a realm of travel and commerce, violence and exploitation, aesthetic inspiration and scientific inquiry. The diverse array of objects, ranging from seaweed albums to slave narratives, displays the complexity of human encounters with the Atlantic Ocean and foregrounds perspectives and practices often submerged by the dominant historical record. As we confront rising sea levels and an increasingly acidic ocean, these objects invite us to revisit the stories we tell about the ocean and to contemplate our relationship to the region’s most vital natural resource. 

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Boston Athenaeum and the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s English Department. Professor Sari Edelstein, PhD and graduate students from her seminar Critical Ocean Studies worked with Athenaeum curator Christina Michelon, PhD to co-curate this exhibition.