Coastal Perspectives Lecture – Mar 5, 2024

Ramshackle Housing and the Erasure of Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Fishing Communities

Maura Coughlin, Ph.D., Department of Art + Design, Northeastern University


This talk looks closely at the modern dispossession of French shoreline maritime communities in visual representation. Over the course of the nineteenth century, former fishing villages on the French Atlantic shoreline were replaced by hotels, casinos, vacation homes, industrial ports and, most paradoxically, by beaches that seemingly offered the experience of “pristine nature.”  The dual demands of tourism and modernization (often celebrated in Impressionist paintings) cleared the working class from the coast and cancelled much of its vibrant culture. This paper examines images of the shoreline for what they offer to picture lost  ‘encultured landscapes’ that were inhabited and worked in specific, local and material ways before they became sites of tourism and summer homes.


Maura Coughlin is an art historian who has published widely on subjects such as agriculture and wastelands in Brittany, trans-Atlantic fishing communities, coastal ecologies and resource extraction in French Atlantic art and visual culture. She is co-editor of Ecocriticism and the Anthropocene in Nineteenth-Century Art and Visual Culture (2020) and her work is included in the recent volume Picture Ecology, Art and Ecocriticism in Planetary Perspective (2021). Her recent projects include a collection of essays exploring extractive 19th-century visual culture and  a co-curated exhibition devoted to seaweed for the New Bedford Whaling Museum. She is Teaching Professor in the Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University.



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