Derek Nelson

Ph.D., Department of History, University of New Hampshire

2023 to 2024
Emanuel Fellow

Reexamining Historical Introductions of Marine Wood-Boring Species from the Perspective of the History of Science and Technology

Few animals have had a global impact on par with marine woodborers. Teredinids and limnoriids—more commonly known as shipworms and gribbles—have subtly, and not so subtly, shaped the maritime world and reshaped coastal landscapes for centuries. Their impact on marine scientific thought, maritime technology, and urban design is perceptible to this day. Ironically, few people today have heard of these organisms once known the world over. My research examines these world historic animals by tracing their global redistribution since the 1500s and demonstrating how they shaped peoples, science, and technology for centuries. While new shipping technologies and preservation techniques have all but erased woodborers from popular imaginations, climate change is thrusting them back into our collective consciousness by spreading them to new harbors. The time is right to rediscover marine woodborers and mine their history for the scientific and technological insight it may offer in the present and future.