Coastal Perspectives Lecture – Feb 22, 2022

“Uncertain Contours”: Coasts at the Confluence of Science and Art in 19th-century America

Kimia Shahi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, University of Southern California & currently serves as Kernan Brothers Environmental Fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment


For American artists, navigators, scientists, and intellectuals in the mid-through-late 19th century, saltwater coastlines afforded productive, yet often disorienting, encounters with some of the natural world’s most elusive, dynamic, and interconnected forces, phenomena, and life-forms. This talk traces the roles of visual representation in mediating these encounters, which unfolded as imperial expansion and technological modernization transformed human understandings of—and interactions with—non-human nature in the U.S. and beyond. Forging connections across art, science, and visual culture, the innovative ways of seeing and picturing shorelines brought together in this talk not only reflected the period’s changing human-environment relationships but also shaped and informed them in meaningful ways.


Dr. Kimia Shahi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Southern California and currently serves as Kernan Brothers Environmental Fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. She researches, teaches, and writes about landscape, geography, empire, and environment in modern and U.S./American art and visual culture, with a focus on the intersections of art, science, and technology.  She is currently working on a book about how saltwater coastlines facilitated new, ocean-oriented ways of seeing, picturing, and understanding the natural world in the greater U.S. during the second half of the 19th century. She is also developing a new study of Project Documerica, a photographic archive and information system produced at the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. Dr. Shahi’s recent research on coasts, water, and transoceanic artistic and economic exchanges has been published in the journals Art Papers and American Art. She has contributed essays on landscape, place, and environment to the exhibition catalogues For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design (2019) and the award-winning Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment (2018).


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