The Sound of the Sea

The Matheson History Museum welcomes back journalist and author Cynthia Barnett on Sunday, December 5, to discuss her newest book “The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans.” A book signing will follow her presentation. Proceeds from the sale of books and seashell cards will benefit Gainesville’s Environmental Ambassadors program.

For the safety of staff and attendees, capacity will be limited to 50 people and masks are required. Admission is free but registration is required: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-sound-of-the-sea-tickets-199228175837. A virtual option via Zoom is available for those who cannot attend in person: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8d9t1OYfQxuOWWzK8QQkFw.

The human fascination with seashells is primal. Archeological evidence suggests that Neanderthals collected cockle shells on the coast of what is modern Spain, perhaps giving preference to those they found beautiful. Native Floridians built “great cities of shell” on the southern coasts, later carted off for road fill. In the 1950s, the nation burned with shell-collecting fever only a Florida vacation could cure.

In a special program for Gainesville award-winning environmental author Cynthia Barnett will introduce the long, rich and surprisingly profound relationship between humans and seashells. Traveling from Florida to the Bahamas to the Maldives, West Africa, and beyond, Barnett explores the ancient history of shells as global currency, their use as religious and luxury objects, and the remarkable marine mollusks that make them. For eons, shells and their makers have reflected humanity’s shifting attitudes toward and precarious place in the natural world.

While shells reveal how humans have altered the climate and the sea—down to its very chemistry—they are also sentinels of hope for alternative energy and other solutions that lie beneath the waves. With her engaging account of an aspect of nature and culture long hidden in plain sight, Barnett illuminates the beauty and wonder of seashells as well as the human ingenuity and scientific solutions they represent for our warming world.