Arts & Culture

UWF faculty member examines transformation of American beach in new book

Drawing on a broad range of archival material, Dr. Jamin Wells, assistant professor and director of the Public History Master’s Program at the University of West Florida, recently published his first book, "Shipwrecked: Coastal Disasters and the Making of the American Beach."

Dr. Jamin Wells, assistant professor and director of the Public History Master’s Program, poses with his recent book, Shipwrecked: Coastal Disasters and the Making of the American Beach, at the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities offices on Nov. 24, 2020.

Drawing on a broad range of archival material, Dr. Jamin Wells, assistant professor and director of the Public History Master’s Program at the University of West Florida, recently published his first book, “Shipwrecked: Coastal Disasters and the Making of the American Beach.”

Wells examines how shipwrecks laid the groundwork for the beach tourism industry that transformed the American beach from coastal frontier to oceanfront play space, spurred substantial state and private investment alongshore, reshaped popular ideas about the coast and turned the beach into a touchstone of the American experience. The book is based on extensive archival material including logbooks, court cases, personal papers, government records and cultural ephemera.

“This book sits in several fields of history—environmental history, cultural history and the emerging field of new coastal history—and it is the first to tell the broader story of one of the most iconic spaces on the American landscape—the beach,” Wells said.

Wells said the book began as a master’s research project in 2008 during his time at the University of Rhode Island. He developed the project as a dissertation, which he completed at the University of Delaware in 2013. He said he took a brief break to teach high school in New Orleans, then spent the last four years at UWF revising and extending the dissertation into a full manuscript.

“I’m proud that this book speaks to multiple disciplines including history, archaeology and American studies, and that it offers a provocative argument about the formative role disasters played in the development of the modern American beach,” Wells said. “I hope it spurs discussion and future research. I’m also proud that this is a book that will appeal to an audience beyond scholars and university classrooms. I worked hard to remove academic jargon and tell compelling stories so this research reaches people interested in reading about shipwrecks and the beach.”

To learn more about the Department of History, visit uwf.edu/history.