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.”)