Michele Currie Navakas
Michele Currie Navakas is professor of English at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a 2017–18 National Endowment of the Humanities fellow at The Huntington. She is the author of Coral Lives: Literature, Labor, and the Making of America (Princeton University Press, 2023) and Liquid Landscape: Geography and Settlement at the Edge of Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).
In Liquid Landscape, Michele Currie Navakas analyzes the history of Florida's incorporation alongside the development of new ideas of personhood, possession, and political identity within American letters. From early American novels, travel accounts, and geography textbooks, to settlers' guides, maps, natural histories, and land surveys, early American culture turned repeatedly to Florida's shifting lands and waters, as well as to its itinerant enclaves of Native Americans, Spaniards, pirates, and runaway slaves.
A literary and cultural history of coral―as an essential element of the marine ecosystem, a personal ornament, a global commodity, and a powerful political metaphor
Today, coral and the human-caused threats to coral reef ecosystems symbolize our ongoing planetary crisis. In the nineteenth century, coral represented something else; as a recurring motif in American literature and culture, it shaped popular ideas about human society and politics. In Coral Lives, Michele Currie Navakas tells the story of coral as an essential element of the marine ecosystem, a cherished personal ornament, a global commodity, and a powerful political metaphor. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including works by such writers as Sarah Josepha Hale, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and George Washington Cable, Navakas shows how coral once helped Americans to recognize both the potential and the limits of interdependence―to imagine that their society could grow, like a coral reef, by sustaining rather than displacing others.
Navakas shows how coral became deeply entwined with the histories of slavery, wage labor, and women’s reproductive and domestic work. If coral seemed to some nineteenth-century American writers to be a metaphor for a truly just collective society, it also showed them, by analogy, that society can seem most robust precisely when it is in fact most unfree for the laborers sustaining it. Navakas’s trailblazing cultural history reveals that coral has long been conceptually indispensable to humans, and its loss is more than biological. Without it, we lose some of our most complex political imaginings, recognitions, reckonings, and longings.
Michele Currie Navakas—professor of English at Miami University and a 2017–18 National Endowment of the Humanities fellow—tells the story of coral as an essential element of the marine ecosystem, a highly sought-after ornament used for display and adornment, a global commodity, and a powerful political metaphor.
Algology preserves a passionate engagement with the underwater worldThe documentary Chasing Coral (2017) brings coral close. Using underwater time-lapse photography, the film chronicles the catastrophic effects of global warming on coral reefs.