Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Breadcrumb Navigation


Reading the Sea: Islander Understandings of a Changing Pacific

Public Lecture and Panel Discussion

03.12.2015 18:00  – 19:30 

Location: Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany (seminar room of the Deutsches Museum library)

Speaker: Jenny Newell, American Museum of Natural History

Islanders across the Pacific have deep traditions of understanding themselves and the sea as co-constituted. They consider seas not as blank spaces but as richly inscribed – replete with signs that enable them to navigate by sea craft, locate food, and connect with significant presences, including ancestors and totemic animals. As climate change impacts extend and sea levels rise, however, Islanders are finding it increasingly difficult to read their seas. They are being forced to transform the ways in which they see the sea and how it shapes and enables their lives. Focusing particularly on the Marshall Islands and drawing on vibrant Pacific histories and ethnographies, as well as stunning material culture, this presentation explores the implications of current sea changes for Islander well-being.

Jenny Newell is curator of Pacific ethnography at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. She has previously worked at the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia. Her particular fields of study are Pacific environmental history, museums and material culture; she has published two books: Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans and Ecological Exchange and Pacific Art in Detail. Her current project focuses on exploring the cultural impacts of contemporary climate change.