The Arts, the Sciences and the Seafloor

How can you design a project that incorporates humanities from the outset? Can ‘Blue Humanities’ refining or re-framing scientific research questions? This project looks to explore arts and science collaborations around the sea floor.

What did the project involve? 

Hendry and Publicover collaborated on a Brigstow funded Experimental Partnership ‘The Invisibility of the Sea’, which resulted in a series of exhibited works by the artist Rod Harris (now an exhibition catalogue with short essays by contributors) and a co-written article published in The Conversation Unless we regain our historic awe of the deep ocean it will be plundered.

Hendry is developing work on the seafloor in the circum-Arctic region which aims better to understand the role of the seafloor in cycling nutrients in the Arctic; the effect of anthropogenic climate change and  human activities; and the impact on local communities. As such, the project will combine scientific research with questions relating to law and politics and to social justice as well as situating its investigations within a wider history of human interactions with the seafloor. This ideas exchange funding will be used to further develop the collaborations.

This Ideas Exchange held an extended workshop to investigate the possibilities for involvement by arts scholars and practitioners and social scientists in the Hendry-led project. With this multiday workshop the team introduced their individual interests and methodologies for approaching the seafloor and the Artic, they then explored and developed ways of collaborating with social scientists and arts scholars and practitioners. They explored questions such as:

  • How can we design a project that incorporates methodologies from these disciplines from the outset, rather than simply using them to ‘communicate’ pre-existing results?
  • What might recent work in the ‘Blue Humanities’ bring to the project, either by refining or re-framing its research questions or by offering training to its scientific researchers?
  • How might specific art-forms or media or specific humanities methodologies inform the project’s sense of what it means to ‘know’ the seafloor?
  • And, at a time when concerted efforts are being made finally to map it (through the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project), how might these overlapping ways of knowing the seafloor help us to live better with it?

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Kate Hendry (Earth Sciences, University of Bristol) is an expert in ocean chemistry, isotope geochemistry, and nutrient cycling. She is currently leading a European Research Council funded project (ICY-LAB) investigating impacts of climatic change on coastal systems off SW Greenland; co-leading a UKRI/NERC funded project in the Barents Sea (The Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor, ChAOS); and was awarded a UoB International Strategic Fund grant to travel to Arctic Canada in summer 2019 to start community and science engagement.
  • Laurence Publicover (Humanities, University of Bristol) is an expert in oceanic studies; writing book on the deep ocean in literary texts from the C16th and C17th. He is writing article on human encounters with whales with Jimmy Packham and the pair are collaborating on a human and literary history of the deep ocean (cables, submarines, whaling, etc.)
  • Jimmy Packham (University of Birmingham, Department of American and Canadian Studies) is an expert on C19th literature, especially  American and Canadian and animal studies.
  • Philip Steinberg (University of Durham, Geography) world-leading expert in oceanic studies, in particular in relation to law, with recent work focusing on Arctic.
  • Dan Pollard (Composer/Sound Artist, Pervasive Media Studio) has been collaborating with a marine biologist around the sounds of the deep ocean.
  • Rachael Squire (Royal Holloway, Geography) is an expert on undersea geopolitics.