Stone Liquidities.

20 February 2024

Dr Elsje van Kessel’s article, ‘Stone Liquidities: On Gems, Bodies, and Value in Early Modern Shipwreck’, had been publishes as part of a collection of essays, On Premodern Ships: Making, Materials, Metaphors, edited by Bronwen Wilson, in Viator journal.

This essay examines gemstones and pearls (pedraria) in accounts of shipwreck on the Carreira da Índia. Through an analysis of selected early seventeenth-century texts, it explores the complex and ever-changing trajectories of these small and precious objects at sea. On the perilous journeys of the Portuguese India run, gemstones often went undocumented and easily escaped human control. Stored onboard inside boxes and cabinets, they were removed when the ship was threatened and continued their journeys on or inside human bodies. The essay demonstrates that, in stories of the experience of shipwreck, gems call the notion of value into question, exemplifying how, at sea, one type of liquidity turns into another. Reading shipwreck narratives attentive to the experience of maritime disaster as lived by diverse kinds of bodies opens a space to think afresh about the values of transported things.

Image: Francisco de Holanda. Figura de Lysboa. From Da fabrica que falece à Cidade de Lisboa (1571). Lisbon, Biblioteca da Ajuda, BA 52-XII-24, fol. 2v. Photo: Biblioteca da Ajuda, Lisbon.