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Literary discussions on nature, culture and science
Author: Silvia Granata

This book explores the vogue for home aquaria that spread through Great Britain around the middle of the nineteenth century. The marine tank, perfected and commercialised in the early 1850s, was advertised as a marvel of modernity, a source of endless entertainment and a tool providing useful and edifying knowledge; it was meant to surprise, bringing a profoundly unfamiliar experience right to the heart of the home and providing a vista on the submarine world, at the time still largely unknown. Thanks to an interdisciplinary approach, this book offers an example of how the study of a specific object can be used to address a broad spectrum of issues: the Victorian home tank became in fact a site of intersection between scientific, technological, and cultural trends; it engaged with issues of class, gender, nationality and inter-species relations, drawing together home décor and ideals of domesticity, travel and tourism, exciting discoveries in marine biology, and emerging tensions between competing views of science; due to the close connection between tank keeping and seaside studies, it also marked an important moment in the development of a burgeoning environmental awareness. Through the analysis of a wide range of sources, including aquarium manuals, articles in the periodical press and fictional works, The Victorian aquarium unearths the historical significance of a resonant object, arguing that, for Victorians, the home tank was both a mirror and a window: it opened views on the underwater world, while reflecting the knowledge, assumptions, and preoccupations of its owners.

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Silvia Granata

tank keeping as profoundly different from how the hobby is understood today, pointing to the ways in which a study of the aquarium vogue can provide an intriguing entry to mid-Victorian culture. Looking at an object that engendered different discourses allows one to better understand their relation to each other and to the culture that produced them, thus highlighting contiguities or connections between concerns whose investigations often remain circumscribed by a discipline-oriented approach. Thus, The Victorian aquarium moves across different fields, drawing on

in The Victorian aquarium
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Silvia Granata

ever seen’. Wilkie Collins , No Name , ed. Mark Ford ( London : Penguin , 1994 ), pp. 222 – 3 . 4 On the end of the aquarium vogue see also Conlin, Evolution and the Victorians , Chapter 8; Brock, Science for All , p. 29; Adamowsky, Mysterious Science , Chapter 4; Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, p. 534. 5 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist , pp. 1-2. 6 Moore and Smith (eds), Victorian Environments , p. 12. Kathleen Davidson describes this activity as ‘enframing’, or ‘dividing up and containing a small part of the world’. Kathleen Davidson

in The Victorian aquarium
Silvia Granata

, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography , p. 526. 6 Allen, ‘Tastes and Crazes’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History , pp. 400–4; see also Sarah Whittingham , Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania ( London : Frances Lincoln , 2012 ). 7 Stott, Darwin and the Barnacle , p. xxiii. 8 Piers J. Hale , Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England ( Chicago and London : University of Chicago Press , 2014 ), p. 27 . 9 [ Robert Chambers ], Vestiges of

in The Victorian aquarium
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Silvia Granata

can only be understood by considering how ‘they circulate in specific cultural and historical milieus’. Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 2013 ), p. 4 . 39 Freedgood, The Ideas in Things , p. 148. 40 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1857), p. 122. 41 Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, 4. 42 Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 144; Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography , p. 533. 43 Here, too, aquarium inhabitants were quite

in The Victorian aquarium
Silvia Granata

subsumed into that world because we lack another language with which to represent them’. 97 Indeed, the way in which we name other beings not only signifies a relation, but produces one. In the case of Victorian aquarium texts, the authors’ multiple modes of labelling or describing sea creatures reflected and produced many kinds of relations. Sea creatures in aquaria were appropriated by different, at times overlapping, discourses, as Victorians tried to make sense of them in religious, scientific, or aesthetic terms. Aquarium discussions offer us a glimpse of the first

in The Victorian aquarium