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Michele Currie Navakas
Miami University, Oxford (Oxford, OH 45056-1602)
19th-Century Literary and Scientific Inquiry on the Nature of Marine Life

A book-length study of coral in works by James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and other writers of early American literature.

Animated Stones marshals a broad range of imaginative reflections on coral—from classic works of American literature and natural history, to archival material such as personal letters, periodical essays, and songs, to decorative arts and paintings—attesting that coral confounded many assumptions that early Americans made about the natural world. In particular, coral appeared to be indeterminate matter that blurred the boundaries between subject and object, living and nonliving, and gave early Americans a rich, yet largely unexamined, language of growth, relationship, production, collaboration, and fluidity. I argue that early Americans applied this language to questions of human being and belonging: at a period in the nation’s history when ever-stricter forms of biological classification, division, and description determined one’s political and legal value, the language of coral gave a diverse set of Americans a way to question their culture’s most cherished conventions of personhood.

Project fields:
American Literature

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2017 – 8/31/2018