The first in-depth study of the history of the home aquarium
Parlor Ponds: The Cultural Work of the American Home Aquarium, 1850–1970 examines the myriad cultural meanings of the American home aquarium during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and argues that the home aquarium provided its enthusiasts with a potent tool for managing the challenges of historical change, from urbanization to globalization. The tank could be a window to an alien world, a theater for domestic melodrama, or a vehicle in a fantastical undersea journey. Its residents were seen as inscrutable and wholly disposable “its,” as deeply loved and charismatic individuals, and as alter egos by aquarists themselves.
Parlor Ponds fills a gap in the growing field of animal studies by showing that the tank is an emblematic product of modernity, one using elements of exploration, technology, science, and a commitment to rigorous observation to contain anxieties spawned by industrialization, urbanization, changing gender roles, and imperial entanglements. Judith Hamera engages advertisements, images, memoirs, public aquarium programs, and enthusiast publications to show how the history of the aquarium illuminates complex cultural attitudes toward nature and domestication, science and religion, gender and alterity, and national conquest and environmental stewardship with an emphasis on the ways it illuminates American public discourse on colonial and postcolonial expansion.
Judith Hamera is Professor of Performance Studies and head of the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University.
“A wonderful, elegant, beautifully written book—keenly observed and trenchantly argued."
—Jane Desmond, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
"It's a fantastic work, not only because it is one of the first really scholarly works looking at the aquarium hobby in America, but because Hamera successfully applies performance theory (her particular field) to this subject and manages to shed light on the cultural work that the home aquarium performs throughout the first half of the twentieth century."- Through the Aquarium Glass
—Through the Aquarium Glass