Shelf Life | Newberry

Shelf Life

“Shelf Life” is a podcast about the humanities–and the humans behind them. Each episode features a new conversation with the Newberry staff, fellows, and other readers who bring the Newberry’s world-famous collection to life.

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America's Erstwhile Coral Obsession

During the antebellum period, Americans went crazy for coral, using it in jewelry and medicine, referencing it in art and literature, and adopting it as a metaphor for understanding the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world.

In this episode, Fellowships Manager Keelin Burke speaks with Michele Navakas, a research fellow at the Newberry this past winter, about America’s erstwhile fascination with coral and coral reefs. Along the way, Michele shares a discovery she made in our collection: a song by Sarah Josepha Hale (best known today for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) that holds coral up as a lens through which to view both nature and human society.

(“The Coral Branch” by Sarah Josepha Hale, performed by Ian Crockett and Gene Navakas. Learn more about “The Coral Branch.”)

America's Erstwhile Coral Obsession by Shelf Life, from the Newberry Library

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