Oceans as a Medium

3ROceans - Work package 1: Medium

Oceans as a Medium

This work package analyzes selected regulatory and representational aspects of three critical periods that made the high seas and the deep oceans took on the features of a medium to be used; early modernity, the enlightenment and the 1800s. The work package consists of three separate sub-projects that attend to the origins, possibilities and limits of the ocean as medium. Together, the projects will analyze the transformations the representations of the oceans have undergone over time and how this has formatted the knowledge as well as the utilization of the oceans, not the least in the sense of a medium to be used and controlled. The cultural imaginaries that manifested themselves in visual representations of the ocean, in travelogues, and in fiction will be studied in their interplay and negotiations with the charting protocols, the different regulatory systems and the naval technologies. The individual studies are described briefly below.

From Mare Oceanum to The High Seas: Representations and appropriations

Principal investigator: Knut Ove Eliassen. Other participant: Isabel Capeloa Gil

Eliassen will study how technology, power and representation paved the way for the transformation of the high seas into a medium from the beginning of the modern era. Three studies will investigate how the cultural imaginary of the west have intervened with the large bodies of water that surround the continents, and turned them into epistemological, political and economic objects.

The first will analyze the travelogues of the early discoveries and their relation to the epistemology and politics of early cartography and the rise of geography as a discipline (Eliassen).

The second study will focus on the sea novel from James Fennimore Cooper by way of Herman Melville to C. S. Forrester and its impact on the changing concepts and understanding of the high seas, their resources and territorial politics (Eliassen).

A third study will focus on the history of hydrography from the early charts of late renaissance to contemporary mapping and representational technologies (Gil). A PhD. study will take as its starting point the transformations and negotiations of the dominant modes of representing the ocean aesthetically and analyze the political and epistemological implications of the same.

Mapping the Sea in the age of the Enlightenment

Principal investigator: Ellen Krefting

Krefting will focus on the debates on maritime security and risk assessment in France during the Enlightenment (from Colbert to Napoleon). She will in particular study one of the major sites for maritime governance and production of representations of the sea, Le Dépot de la marine, established in 1720. Its purpose was to raise the level of security for French navigators, by assembling all existing maps, travel journals, memoirs, astronomical observations and topographical operations. In 1773, Le Dépot was granted monopoly of the production of sea maps in France.

The study will investigate how this initiative was informed by conceptions of security and risk, and what its immediate impact was on representations of the sea during the French Enlightenment, and hence also on governance.

Retaining Liberty, Representing Novelty

Principal investigator: Håkon With Andersen

Andersen will look at how a new technology made its way and transformed the oceans as medium in the nineteenth century. The steam engine made the oceans much more accessible as the wind no longer restricted movement. With steam and increase in shipping new problems came to the fore, like the danger of collisions. Engineers came to replace shipmasters and as value increased so did the need for insurance. With insurance came the need for evaluation and international certificates and hence the rise of private classification companies.

Towards the end of the 19th century, national interests started to manifest themselves at the high seas, first concerning emigrant ships, but later fights over load lines and other types of national regulations and controls ensued. Most of these attempts to regulate ended in international agreements, such as the traffic regulations of 1889, which tried to balance national demand and international competition regulations in a way that preserved freedom of the seas.