Skip to main content
Shopping cart: items Cart

Oceans under Glass

Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

A welcome dive into the world of aquarium craft that offers much-needed knowledge about undersea environments.

Atlantic coral is rapidly disappearing in the wild. To save the species, they will have to be reproduced quickly in captivity, and so for the last decade conservationists have been at work trying to preserve their lingering numbers and figure out how to rebuild once-thriving coral reefs from a few survivors. Captive environments, built in dedicated aquariums, offer some hope for these corals. This book examines these specialized tanks, charting the development of tank craft throughout the twentieth century to better understand how aquarium modeling has enhanced our knowledge of the marine environment.

Aquariums are essential to the way we understand the ocean. Used to investigate an array of scientific questions, from animal behavior to cancer research and climate change, they are a crucial factor in the fight to mitigate the climate disaster already threatening our seas. To understand the historical development of this scientific tool and the groups that have contributed to our knowledge about the ocean, Samantha Muka takes up specialty systems—including photographic aquariums, kriesel tanks (for jellyfish), and hatching systems—to examine the creation of ocean simulations and their effect on our interactions with underwater life. Lively and engaging, Oceans under Glass offers a fresh history about how the aquarium has been used in modern marine biology and how integral it is to knowing the marine world.

240 pages | 21 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Oceans in Depth

Biological Sciences: Conservation

History: Environmental History, History of Technology

History of Science

Reviews

"At long last, a book dedicated to the nonstandard art of tinkering with oceans. Skillfully moving from one tank type to the next, Oceans under Glass traces the multiple networks, disciplines, and methods involved in producing situated knowledges about marine life. No wonder, then, that author Samantha Muka is herself brilliantly adept in the art of tinkering. Engaging a variety of methodologies, from ethnography to archival research, and working across multiple disciplines, including science and technology studies and biological and environmental history, Muka sketches a loving bricolage of tank crafters and their work in shaping future oceans. Kudos to Muka, and kudos also to the University of Chicago Press for putting out a much-needed interdisciplinary series on oceans."
 

Irus Braverman, author of Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink

“In Oceans under Glass, Muka reveals in vivid and loving detail how the ‘tank craft’ of aquarium keepers has illuminated life under the ocean’s surface, while she also celebrates the diverse network of aquarists, past and present, who have developed that craft. She shows how these little-known technical tinkerers, caregivers to delicate marine organisms, hobbyists, and professional researchers have shared their hard-won fingertip knowledge across social divides in order to make aquariums habitable for their denizens and gain knowledge otherwise inaccessible to us land dwellers. The project innovatively brings together historical, technical, ethnographic, and sociological information and analysis to point to the fundamental importance of aquarium craft to our understanding of life in the ocean, which is ultimately essential to save it from human-caused destruction. The message is important and timely, the book a promising launch for Chicago’s new Oceans in Depthseries.” 

Lynn K. Nyhart, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"Samantha Muka's lively and thoughtful account of twentieth-century aquaria teaches us about everything from 'tank craft' maker culture to the politics of ocean simulations. Bring your childhood field trip memories and leave with a richer historical appreciation of the tinkering, the unlikely collaborations, and the artistic and scientific visions and tensions necessary to put marine life convincingly and usefully under glass."

Karen Rader, Virginia Commonwealth University

Table of Contents

Series Foreword: Oceans in Depth
Preface
1. Aquarium Craft: Replicating Oceans under Glass
2. Photography Tanks: Viewing Oceans under Glass
3. Kreisel Tanks: Crafting Movement under Glass
4. Reef Tanks: Building Ecosystems under Glass
5. Breeding Tank Systems: Closing the Cycle under Glass
Conclusion: “You Are the Ocean”: Scaling Up Oceans under Glass
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press