October 18, 2012, 4:10-5:30p, Room: 3241 Angell Hall
Abstract: The essay draft represents my first crack at converting a dissertation chapter into a free-standing article. My American Studies dissertation explored representations of the United States whaling industry from the period of its peak production in the mid-nineteenth century through its decline, obsolescence, and commemoration in the early twentieth century. Whale oil was the energy source that lit lamps and lubricated machinery in the rapidly-industrializing United States. In the 1850s and 60s, though, oil wells in Pennsylvania began providing a cheap and relatively accessible replacement for whale oil: petroleum. Although the whaling industry declined sharply by 1900, whaling persisted as a subject for a vast and diverse body of cultural production: novels, paintings, traveling exhibitions, journalistic accounts. My dissertation discusses the ways in which these cultural texts articulate and manage anxieties about labor, technology, and obsolescence. This essay reads Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) as a text that anticipates the imminent decline of the whaling industry and the cultural, social, and ethical consequences that attend that economic phenomenon. At the same time, Moby-Dick raises a different anxiety: the extinction of whale species. By pairing an obsolete hunting industry with a rapidly-vanishing quarry, the novel articulates the limits of capitalist and imperialist expansion in two dimensions. I welcome suggestions of all kinds for the essay, and I hope that the workshop can also discuss more broadly the project of converting a dissertation chapter into an article—a topic that I hope will be relevant to everyone present.