Art in Context | “A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things”: A Natural History of the Sea from the Bottom Up

Free admission
About this program

In this talk, Christopher Pastore will discuss his book project, A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things: A Natural History of the Sea from the Bottom Up, which examines the natural history of the seas, both literally and figuratively, from the “bottom up.” By wading into the muck and plunging into the ooze, this project shows how ordinary people made sense of a mysterious ocean. It turns out that the sea’s slimy things, both real and imagined, have long tended to lurk near the limits of natural knowledge, where people who have traditionally been relegated to the margins of scientific inquiry—Africans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and women, among others—became their primary interpreters. Guided by the conviction that human history is inextricably tied to the rhythms of nature, this project shows how the contributions of marginalized people helped lay the foundations of marine ecology, thereby forging the principal pathways of global connectivity. From the “age of exploration” to the “age of acceleration,” the sea’s slimy things have embodied not only the anxieties (and inequities) of each age but also, in many cases, new possibilities.

About Christopher Pastore

Christopher Pastore is an associate professor of history at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where he teaches courses in environmental history, early America, and the Atlantic world. He holds a PhD in American history and an MS in college teaching from the University of New Hampshire, an MFA in nonfiction creative writing from the New School, and a BA in biology from Bowdoin College. In connection with his current book project, he has held research fellowships at the Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute at Trinity College, Dublin, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. In spring 2024 he will be a Fulbright fellow at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He is the author of Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Art in Context

Presented by faculty, staff, student guides, and visiting scholars, these gallery talks focus on a particular work of art in the museum’s collections or special exhibitions through an in-depth look at its style, subject matter, technique, or time period.

Top image
Edward Duncan (1803–1882), Study of Rocks Covered with Seaweed, undated, watercolor, graphite and gum arabic on moderately thick, moderately textured, blue wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection