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Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s classic nineteenth-century novel. It’s long, full of neologisms, encyclopedic, and  “overwrought” if you believe one former American Lit survey student. In the age of fifteen-second TikTok videos, how can we get students to appreciate what one critic calls Melville’s mighty book? May we suggest layering in a few JSTOR Daily stories, a few images and objects from collections found on JSTOR, and focusing on sperm whaling in the United States. Links from JSTOR Daily to all content on JSTOR are free as usual. Call us prepared.

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A New England whaler

The Diverse Whaling Crews of Melville’s Era

The ship from Moby Dick was a fairly accurate portrayal of the multi-racial character of American whaling crews before the Civil War.
Whaling painting

Did North America’s Longest Painting Inspire Moby-Dick?

Herman Melville likely saw the panorama “Whaling Voyage,” which records the sinking of the whaler Essex, while staying in Boston in 1849.
Bob Dylan and Herman Melville

What Herman Melville Can Teach Bob Dylan about Plagiarism

Bob Dylan delivered his Nobel Prize lecture on June 4, just days before a deadline that would have ...
Sperm whale

What Is Ambergris and Where Does It Come From?

Ambergris, a waxy-like substance found in perfumes, has a unique origin.
A black and white portrait photograph of Herman Melville.

Melville Reborn, Again and Again

A scholar traces Herman Melville's reputation in American and British literary circles.
Herman Melville

Melville’s Confidence Man Today

Does Herman Melville's 1857 novel The Confidence-Man have anything to tell us about our present day? Philip Roth thinks so.
Blackfish. G. H. Nickerson, Provincetown, Cape Cod Views.

Why Don’t Americans Eat Whale?

Whales have been used for everything but meat in this country. Why is that?


“‘Whaling Voyage Round the World’: Russell and Purrington’s Moving Panorama and Herman Melville’s ‘Mighty Book.’” by Kevin J. Avery. American Art Journal, vol. 22, no. 1, 1990, pp. 50–78.

The Business of Whaling in America in the 1850’s.” by David Moment. The Business History Review. Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1957), pp. 261-291.

Turner’s Whaling Pictures,” by Alison Hokanson Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin , Spring 2016, Vol. 73, No. 4, Turner’s Whaling Pictures (Spring 2016), pp. 1-2, 4-47.

Journal of Melville’s Voyage in a Clipper Ship” by Herman Melville. The New England Quarterly, 1929. Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan., 1929), pp. 120-125.

‘Universal Mixing’ and Interpenetrating Standing: Disability and Community in Melville’s Moby-Dick.” by Harriet Hustis. Nineteenth-Century Literature. Vol. 69, No. 1 (June 2014), pp. 26-55.

Oil, Spermaceti, Ambergris, and Teeth: Products of the Nineteenth-Century Pacific Sperm-Whaling Industry.” by Nancy Shoemaker. RCC Perspectives, no. 5 (2019): 17–22.



Paintings of Whaler Ships

Whalers by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c. 1845
The Whaler by Gordon Grant. Walter Reed illustration Archive on JSTOR

Whale Skeletons, Bones, Teeth

Students can understand the size of a whale from preserved skeletons and teeth.

The 1904 World’s Fair, St. Louis, Missouri: The US Government Building: Natural History Exhibit Featuring a Whale Skeleton and Life-Sized Whale Model, 1904
Median Sagittal section of a whale’s tooth

Whale Oil Lamps

Whale Oil Lamp made from lacy pressed glass, 1825-1850
Whale Oil Lamp made of blue free-blown glass, 1830-60
Small albarello drug jar for spermaceti, Italy, 1701-1800
Small albarello drug jar for spermaceti, Italy, 1701-1800

Objects That Use Whale Parts

A corset made of silk, cotton, and whale bone, 1891
Queen Chess Piece made of “Whale Ivory,” 13th Century
A scrimshaw sperm whale tooth owned by John Wesley Cromwell.
A scrimshaw sperm whale tooth owned by John Wesley Cromwell. The tooth is etched with a patriotic scene. 1800-1850

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American Speech, Vol. 27, No. 2 (May, 1952), pp. 91–101
Duke University Press
American Literature, Vol. 28, No. 2 (May, 1956), pp. 164–183
Duke University Press
College Literature, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter, 2005), pp. 42-62
The John Hopkins University Press
The American Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 50–78
Kennedy Galleries, Inc.
The Business History Review, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1957), pp. 261–291
The President and Fellows of Harvard College
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 4, Turner's Whaling Pictures (Spring 2016), pp. 1–2, 4–47
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The New England Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan., 1929), pp. 120-125
The New England Quarterly, Inc.
Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 69, No. 1 (June 2014), pp. 26–55
University of California Press
RCC Perspectives, No. 5, NEW HISTORIES OF PACIFIC WHALING (2019), pp. 17–22
Rachel Carson Center