Scholars across many disciplines, from the natural sciences to the humanities, are taking a renewed interest in the ocean’s role in life on Earth. Many ask: what traces of life and society are recorded in the ocean and how can these pasts be interpreted? In Lehman's dissertation, Planetary Sea: Oceanography and the Making of the World Ocean, she examined how scientists have approached this question and in the process how they have constructed a notion of the ocean as a single dynamic entity with a special relationship to life on Earth. This concept of a world ocean both exceeds and authorizes practices of regulation, jurisdiction, and sovereign governance. In new work, she asks how oceanic pasts are investigated, contested, and narrated through those working under the rubric of marine cultural heritage. In preliminary work on marine archaeological investigations - particularly of slave ships - she brings together feminist, postcolonial, and critical race scholarship that seeks alternative narratives of world history, and recent debates regarding materiality, deep history, and planetary politics spurred by the Anthropocene concept. Throughout, this work is undergirded by her notion of the ocean archive: a record of life on Earth, formed and filtered through marine dynamics, and only available to us in partial and unpredictable ways.
Jessica Lehman earned a PhD in Geography from the University of Minnesota in 2016 with a dissertation entitled ‘Planetary Sea: Oceanography and the Making of the World Ocean.’ She is currently an AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hosted by the Department of Geography and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. Her research interests include the politics of nature, resource extraction, and global environmental knowledge production.