The Ocean and the Seas - The University of Toronto's Centre for Comparative Literature's 28th Annual Conference

Arianne Des Rochers's picture
February 23, 2018 to February 24, 2018
Ontario, Canada
Subject Fields: 
Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, Literature, Maritime History / Studies

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?

Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,

in that grey vault. The sea. The sea

has locked them up. The sea is History.

            —Derek Walcott, “The Sea is History”


Call for Papers

The University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature’s 28th Annual Conference

The Ocean and the Seas

How do sea breezes set the ships of the imagination to sail? In literature from Homer to Melville to Walcott, the ocean and the seas have inspired madness and horror but also affiliation and solidarity. The world’s waters are sites of culture and labour. By allowing contact between peoples for travel, trade, war and colonization, access to the sea means access to wealth and power. The history of ocean travel has been inexorably linked with the material development of the modern world. 

In “Submarine Futures of the Anthropocene” (2017), Elizabeth DeLoughrey explores how we are turning to the ocean to fuel our imaginaries as sea levels rise because of climate change; “sea ontologies” or “more-than-human temporalities of the ocean” are multi-species, multi-entity relations subject to the movement and erosion of the tides. In Our Mother Ocean (2014), Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Monica Chilese trace the effects of the globalization of the fishing industry in the global south and our failure to safeguard the oceans from environmental degradation and to protect those whose lives depend on it for survival. They draw on the ocean to chronicle the struggles from below and the building of solidarities across borders to resist these global capitalist forces. Finally, in Eating the Ocean (2016), Elspeth Probyn, by focusing on sustainable consumption and on the food politics of the human-fish relationship, gives agency not only to human actors but to the ocean as well.

The ocean is also a source of knowledge. For the Greeks and Romans in antiquity, the ocean and the coast represented the boundary of their world, which expanded as new forms of sea travel developed. Homer’s heroes set out across the wine-dark sea not only for resources and territorial expansion but also for wisdom. Today, by “shoving off from land- and nation-based perspectives,” Hester Blum suggests, “we might find new critical locations from which to investigate questions of affiliation, citizenship, economic exchange, mobility, rights, and sovereignty.”[1] In that spirit, the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature is pleased to invite you to ask: when our critical sensibilities are at sea and unmoored from methodological nationalism, what forms might our critical and aesthetic representations of the ocean and the seas take?

We invite proposals for individual or group presentations, performances, visual art, poetry and spoken word, and film that imagine, theorize or refer to the ocean and the seas without the commonplace trappings of nationality or land-based conquest. We also invite proposals for writing workshops, joint panels, and roundtable discussions, in which case participants should submit their proposals together.

Suggested topics include but are not limited to:


  • Sustainability and the politics of consumption, the fishing industry
  • Migration, refugees, and the right to mobility; displacement, diasporas
  • Language contact, creolization, and translation
  • Travel narratives and nostos myths, contact literature
  • Literary representations of the sea, the poetics of the sea
  • Trade and commerce, the transatlantic slave trade
  • Pipelines and oil spills, access to clean water, environmental activism
  • Island studies, tourism, capitalist exploitation
  • Phenomenological accounts of the ocean
  • Mermaids and monsters, sea mythology
  • Indigenous creation stories, the role of the ocean in indigenous thought
  • Gender and the ocean, queer love and bodies of water
  • Oceanic agency, geontopower, water as sacred
  • Exploration and colonization, race and the boundaries of the sea
  • Hurricanes, tidal waves, natural disasters, climate change
  • Piracy, marronage, extralegal communities, matelotage


Proposals should be a maximum of 250 words. Individual talks should be 15–20 minutes in duration and altogether, panels and roundtables should not exceed 90 minutes. Please include a biographical statement of no more than 50 words and submit your abstract by e-mail to by October 20, 2017.

The conference will be held at the University of Toronto on February 23 and 24, 2018. Elizabeth Povinelli, from the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, will be one of our keynote speakers.

We look forward to welcoming you to Toronto.


[1] Hester Blum (2013): "Introduction: oceanic studies," Atlantic Studies, 10:2, 151-155