CfP: Online Workshop "The Naval Shipworm Teredo navalis. A Global Player and its Entangled Histories"

 Call for Papers: "The Naval Shipworm Teredo navalis. A Global Player and its Entangled Histories", Online-Worshop organized by Mareike Vennen, Humboldt University of Berlin (BMBF-research project “Animals as Objects"), and Ruth Schilling, German Maritime Museum/Leibniz-Institute for Maritime History

A two-day online-workshop aims at bringing together multiple perspectives on the history of the naval shipworm Teredo navalis from various disciplines. We want to reach out to and connect scholars working on T. navalis from different perspectives and fields: history, environmental and cultural history, history of science, history of knowledge as well as Science and Technology Studies. 

The history of Teredo navalis spans various geographical regions, time periods, nations, industries, and disciplines. Of unknown origins, the naval shipworm has been a reoccurring protagonist in reports since ships sailed the seas. The eight-inch animal became so prominent not because of its appeal, but because of the damage and destruction it caused to wooden ships and port infrastructure: boring through the wood, it sinks wooden vessels; tunneling into underwater piers and pilings it collapses ports and harbours. The wood on which it feeds serves as habitat and as means of transportation – T. navalis has spread around the whole world on debris and the hulls of sailing vessels.  

Just as one cannot detach the animal from its wooden environment, the natural history of T. navalis cannot be detached from the material, scientific and commercial history of wood and of ships and maritime infrastructures. Thus, the history of T. navalis is not only a global history, but a history of globalization, deeply rooted in colonialism, imperial trade and the history of maritime logistics. Reconstructing the natural history of T. navalis means reconstructing the entanglements between science, politics and economy and the percurrent global mobilities and entanglements in these fields. It means exploring the connections between imperial trade, sailing ships, the military-industrial complex around “wood” as a material and its ecological effects: when and where were mass occurrences of T. navalis recorded? To what extent did the damages lead to the use of new materials and techniques in ship building. And what were the ecological and economic effects of these developments (like deforestation; water pollution)? 

T. navalis thus allows us to revise the heroic narratives that constitute the maritime history of the so-called “Age of Discoveries”. It further enables us to investigate the relationships between shipbuilding, shipping and maritime infrastructure on the one hand and the ecological effects and changes in marine biodiversity on the other. The organism also points to the intersection of the history of scientific classification and its moral economies, pitching “beneficial” animals against pests and “invasive species”.
We invite theoretical perspectives and case studies from different time periods and geographic regions in order to trace a global history of the species. At the same time, we wish to investigate a history of globalization through the history of T. navalis – from the Atlantic slave trade routes of the 16th century to the Dutch coast in the 1730s, from San Francisco Bay in the 1920s and German coasts in the 1930s and 50s. With the example of T. navalis, we thus aim for broader interdisciplinary questions in the framework of a critical history of "invasive species", of “biogeography” and “migration”.

The two-day workshop will take place on January 21 and 22, 2021 in an online format. It is planned to present the respective research interest or project, to discuss materials and methods and to exchange ideas for further steps of cooperation. The workshop is thus intended as a first step to realize a larger cooperation.

Please send extended abstracts (maximum 500 words) and short biographies to Mareike Vennen by 15th November 2020. For any questions, please contact Mareike Vennen as well.

The workshop draws from the research project “Animals as Objects: Zoological Gardens and the Natural History Museum Berlin, 1810 to 2020”, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the research areas Environmental History and History of Science at the German Maritime Museum/Leibniz-Institute for Maritime History.