It’s fun to be a historian of the oceans these days. Environmental scholarship has yielded some fascinating clashes of perspective in recent years, and the conversations are lively. Scientists, historians of science, and environmental scholars are all working intensively to establish a narrative of the sea’s life forms, its physical and chemical conditions, and the impact of human activities. They are doing so over extraordinary periods of time — hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. Interpretation abound, opening a wide space for disagreement.
I recently asked Jeff Bolster to participate in an online roundtable about his Bancroft prize-winning book, The Mortal Sea. The comments, and his response, stand up an ideal primer for some of the major issues involved in incorporating the oceans — and ocean life — into a broader story of human relations with the natural world.