Melville Society Cultural Project
The Melville Society Cultural Project (MSCP), growing out of the Melville Society, is a group of scholars from universities around the US who have formed a collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the Research Library, the Museum’s library and research center. Together, we are dedicated to advancing an understanding of Herman Melville’s writings, his life, and his times. New Bedford’s museums, libraries, schools, and parks provide a community committed to celebrating whaling and maritime culture. Our joint programs allow scholars, teachers, students, and visitors to explore this internationally acclaimed American writer whose works continue to resonate with our lives today.
The Melville Society Archive is housed at the Research Library, where significant works from this collection are also on display. The MSCP maintains a growing collection of rare editions, scholarly books and papers, and art works. Donations of other Melville-related books go into the MSCP Book Donation program and get shipped to libraries and schools around the world.
The MSCP presents an exciting array of events:
A Melville birthday event near his August 1 birth date
Exhibitions of visual works related to Melville
International Conferences on Melville
Melville Summer Institutes for students and teachers
The MSCP is also a primary partner producing and promoting our Moby-Dick MarathonMelville Scholars Workshop, Tours and Lecture Learn more
The MSCP and the Whaling Museum collaborate in organizing activities with the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, the New Bedford Historical Society, and the New Bedford Free Public Library.
Founded in 1946, the Melville Society now has a substantial international membership. In addition to the MSCP it sponsors conferences and meetings, and an award-winning journal, Leviathan.
Melville in New Bedford
On January 3, 1841, on a blustery cold day, Melville sailed out of Fairhaven, leaving the port of New Bedford on the whaler Acushnet bound for the Pacific. Five years later, he transformed the events of this journey into a series of books beginning with Typee (1846) and culminating in Moby-Dick (1851), often called America’s greatest novel. New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world at the time Melville embarked, is vividly represented in Moby-Dick. Although the Spouter Inn, where Ishmael meets his companion, the remarkable Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, is no longer standing, several sites described in the novel can be visited today—the Seamen’s Bethel with its prow-shaped pulpit; the handsome mansions of Quaker ship owners, such as the Rotch-Jones-Duff House; and the environs of the African-American church into which Ishmael stumbled as he was searching for lodging. In 1858 Melville returned to New Bedford to present a lecture on “Statues in Rome.” With his sister Kate living in New Bedford through the Civil War years with her husband, John Hoadley, the city lived on in Melville’s mind long after his own visits there.
Melville in Massachusetts
Melville’s paternal grandfather took part in the Boston Tea Party. Although Melville was born in New York and spent his early years there, he moved to the Berkshires in 1850, where he bought Arrowhead, a 160-acre farm, which gave him a “sea-feeling” in the country. During his years in the Berkshires, he worked the farm and wrote Moby-Dick, three additional novels, and a number of memorable short stories. In his study on the second floor of Arrowhead, from which he could see the whale-shaped contour of Mt. Greylock on the horizon, his mind also began to turn toward poetry.
Melville developed a deep friendship during this time with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived near Lenox. He also frequently accompanied his wife Lizzie when she returned for visits to her childhood home in Boston, enjoying the opportunity to visit the city’s libraries and to converse with his father-in-law, Judge Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. When he returned to live in New York in 1863, he kept Arrowhead in the family by selling it to his brother, Allan.
Melville in the United States and the World
In Moby-Dick, Melville proclaims, “the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete.” Melville’s own ocean voyages on a variety of vessels, crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific, provided the catalysts for his early novels, including Moby-Dick. Although his later novels, short stories, and poems are usually set on land and in cities, the ocean and its wondrous creatures continued to inspire his writing. Through extensive travel and reading, Melville developed an appreciation for the world’s many cultures, as is apparent in all of his writings from his first work, Typee (1846), set on the Marquesean island of Nuku Hiva, to his last, Billy Budd, Sailor (1891), set on a British man-of-war. Despite the global stretch of his imagination, however, Melville’s concerns were invariably grounded in his experiences in the United States. Given his proud Euro-American lineage, he never ceased to be concerned about the unfulfilled promises of America’s democratic experiment. With his life spanning the nineteenth century (1819-1891), Melville was attuned to injustices caused by industrial, economic, political, and environmental developments. His writings repeatedly testify to his sympathies for oppressed peoples everywhere.
As a young novelist and as a mature poet, Melville used language in exploratory and often astonishing ways. His innovative uses of language gave him the means to extend his search for what might be called universal concepts of faith and truth, art and beauty. That Melville’s writings continue to appeal to countless contemporary readers in the United States and around the world may be attributed to his religious, philosophical, and aesthetic search as well as to the range of social, political, and environmental issues he addresses.
Attention to Melville’s writings is diversely expressed in international popular culture through editorials, advertisements, and cartoons as well as through the visual arts, fiction, music, and films. Moby-Dick has been translated into almost all the world’s written languages. Today’s global and popular interest in Melville reflects not only his own appreciation for multiple cultures; it also reflects his commitment to continued learning and searching.
Melville’s voyage, then, was never complete. The MSCP seeks to continue that voyage for an ever-growing audience.
Last modified: July 5, 2016