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Neptune’s Laboratory

Neptune’s Laboratory

Fantasy, Fear, and Science at Sea

Antony Adler

ISBN 9780674972018

Publication date: 11/19/2019

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An eyewitness to profound change affecting marine environments on the Newfoundland coast, Antony Adler argues that the history of our relationship with the ocean lies as much in what we imagine as in what we discover.

We have long been fascinated with the oceans, seeking “to pierce the profundity” of their depths. In studying the history of marine science, we also learn about ourselves. Neptune’s Laboratory explores the ways in which scientists, politicians, and the public have invoked ocean environments in imagining the fate of humanity and of the planet—conjuring ideal-world fantasies alongside fears of our species’ weakness and ultimate demise.

Oceans gained new prominence in the public imagination in the early nineteenth century as scientists plumbed the depths and marine fisheries were industrialized. Concerns that fish stocks could be exhausted soon emerged. In Europe these fears gave rise to internationalist aspirations, as scientists sought to conduct research on an oceanwide scale and nations worked together to protect their fisheries. The internationalist program for marine research waned during World War I, only to be revived in the interwar period and again in the 1960s. During the Cold War, oceans were variously recast as battlefields, post-apocalyptic living spaces, and utopian frontiers.

The ocean today has become a site of continuous observation and experiment, as probes ride the ocean currents and autonomous and remotely operated vehicles peer into the abyss. Embracing our fears, fantasies, and scientific investigations, Antony Adler tells the story of our relationship with the seas.

Praise

  • In his entertaining, readable history of marine science, [Adler] shows how humanity’s fundamental ignorance about the sea has often fed fantastical ideas of it as savior, battlefield, playground, storehouse, angry beast or hapless victim…Left me with a sense of urgency about the ocean’s perilous state…Enlightening.

    —Boris Worm, Nature

Author

  • Antony Adler is Research Associate in the History Department at Carleton College. His work centers on the history of marine science and technology and ocean exploration. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Washington and has been a postdoctoral instructor at the University of Washington and a postdoctoral fellow with the Program on Science, Technology & Society at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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