Samantha Muka, "Oceans Under Glass: Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea" (U Chicago Press, 2022)


In Oceans Under Glass: Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea (University of Chicago Press, 2022), Samantha Muka, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Stevens Institute of Technology, dives into the unexpected world of tank crafting. Throughout the book, Muka tells the stories behind the development of various kinds of aquariums, such as photography tanks and reef tanks. She explains how the knowledge and ingenuity of a variety of actors have been contributing to furthering our knowledge of oceanic environments. The myriad of technical and technological challenges that arise when attempting to maintain aquatic species in artificial environments has been the source of at least as many experiments in tank tinkering.

Focusing on aquariums as complex, situated, and constantly evolving technological devices, Muka shows how the production of knowledge about the ocean depends on interactions between communities holding different knowledge, expertise, and interests: public aquarists, academic researchers, and hobbyists. Analyzing the “craft circulation” between these three groups, the author provides us with a dynamic picture that challenges a series of assumptions on how scientific knowledge is and can be produced.

More than a history and sociology of tank craft, Oceans under Glass offers a meditation on the necessity of aquariums and their artificiality not only to learn about the ocean, but also to preserve some of their biodiversity. “Imagined worlds”, as Muka puts it, aquariums should also be understood as critical places where our future relationship to the oceans, for better and for worst, is being shaped.

Victor Monnin, Ph.D. is an historian of science specialized in the history of Earth sciences. He is teaching the Humanities and French language to undergraduates.

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Victor Monnin

Victor Monnin, Ph.D. is an early-career historian of science. He teaches History at John Jay College, City University of New York.

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