The Melville Society is dedicated to the study and appreciation of the nineteenth-century American author Herman Melville, writer of Typee, Moby-Dick, and Billy Budd, such short stories as “Bartleby” and “Benito Cereno,” and several volumes of poetry, including Battle-Pieces and the epic Clarel.
We publish the award-winning journal Leviathan and meet twice a year for fellowship and scholarly discourse at the annual conferences of the Modern Language Association and the American Literature Association. We also sponsor International Conferences and tours every other year.
Membership and Donations
Membership in The Melville Society is open to all. For information about joining The Melville Society click here. If you want to make a special payment or if you are interested in donating to any of the various projects, endowments, and programs sponsored by The Melville Society, click here.
Events and Announcements
American Literature Association Conference
May 23-26, 2019 — Boston
Panel Topics with Scheduled Papers and Presenters
Unsettling Feeling: Melville’s Emotions
Talk of Melville and "emotion" may call to mind Moby-Dick's affective extremes: Ahab's monomaniacal fury and the egalitarian exuberance of the crew. But in recent years critics have begun to excavate a range of less focused, recognizable, or stable feelings, which permeate Melville's oeuvre. Sianne Ngai analyzes The Confidence Man's circulation of "fake feeling" and its ambiguous, unstable atonality; Jennifer Greiman has described "misgivings" in Battle-Pieces as a productive "mood of suspension"; and Michael Jonik troubles our visions of squeeze-of-the-hand camaraderie by tracing the "sensation of misanthropy."
Chair: Nathan Wolff, Tufts University
1. "The Politics of Cynicism in Melville's The Confidence-Man," Craig Stensrud, University of British Columbia
2. "The Feeling of Miscegenation: Sublime Suspicion in Pierre," Hannah Walser, Harvard University
3. "The Whiteness of the Will: Race and the Matter of Monomania," Jonathan Schroeder, University of Warwick
4. "The Essence of Ambergris," Erica Fretwell, University at Albany, SUNY
Melville and Women, Revisited
2019 marks the 200th year since Melville’s birth and has inspired varied observances of this anniversary. It also marks 25 years since the first Melville Society panel on Melville and women at ALA. This panel returns to gender theory and scholarship, inviting fresh considerations of women as shapers of culture and the arts, voices of protest and reform, and pioneers in fluid conceptions of gender and identity. How do these contexts influence our understanding of women who inhabit Melville’s pages and with whom he lived, worked, corresponded, and met the challenges of 19th-century life and writing? What do we make of unconventional characters like Isabel Banford, Agatha Hatch, Hunilla, or Goneril? What of his queens—Pomaree, Hautia, and “queenly” Ahab? How do 21st-century understandings of race, gender, sexuality, and identity help us frame these presences in Melville’s work?
Chair: Wyn Kelley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1. "Ishmael Casts Off His Petticoats: A Female Rereading of Moby-Dick,” Megan J. Arlett, University of North Texas
2. "Melville, Mothers, and Motherless Worlds: Femininity and Shakespearean Influence in Moby-Dick,” David Greven, University of South Carolina
3. “''That Grief Could be so Brave': Silence, Suffering, and Republican Virtue in the Working-Class Women of Melville’s Short Fiction,” Madison Furrh, Colorado State University
Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies
Vol. 21 – No. 1
The March 2019 issue of Leviathan (vol. 21, no. 1) is now available on Project Muse! This issue is the first of four special “Melville at 200” issues. Dues-paying members of The Melville Society who subscribe to the print edition should receive their copies in the mail soon. The issue features essays on “The New Art of Moby-Dick" by Elizabeth Schultz (including twenty color plates in the print edition along with numerous other images throughout the essay); Elizabeth S. Melville and the field formation of Melville studies, by Jordan Alexander Stein and Adam Fales; and “‘Bartleby’ on Speed” by Alex Benson. It also features a cycle of sonnets, “Of August,” by Wyn Kelley; Theo Davis’s review of One Foot in the Finite, by K. L. Evans; Robert J. Scholnick’s review of Herman Melville Among the Magazines, by Graham Thompson; Mary K. Bercaw Edwards’s review of The Sea and Nineteenth-Century Anglophone Literary Culture, edited by Steve Mentz and Martha Elena Rojas; and Mary K. Bercaw Edwards’s “All Astir,” Colin Dewey’s report on the Moby-Dick Marathon in San Francisco, and Ross Martin’s note on a portrait of Lemuel Shaw that he recently identified in the Extracts section. For information about subscribing to Leviathan, click here.
12th International Conference - Melville's Bicentennial
New York University
New York, NY
June 17-20, 2019
(click here for the official conference website)
The Twelfth International Melville Society Conference will take place at New York University to celebrate the bicentennial of Herman Melville's birth in lower Manhattan in 1819. The conference will commemorate Melville's life, work, and legacies through a series of papers and conversations devoted to the theme of “origins” broadly conceived. We invite proposals for individual papers or panels organized around MELVILLE’S ORIGINS as it relates to historicist, theoretical, textual, biographical, and pedagogical approaches to Melville’s writings and to the history of their reception in criticism, adaptation, the digital world, popular culture, and the fine arts.
We are delighted to announce that our keynote speakers will be Rodrigo Lazo, Professor of English at UC-Irvine, and Wyn Kelley, Senior Lecturer in Literature at MIT. In addition to the regular panels and roundtables at New York University, there will be a number of special events and Melville-related excursions around New York City. We are also planning an optional post-conference daytrip to Mystic, CT, to tour the historic seaport and see the 1841 whale ship, Charles W. Morgan, on Friday, June 21.
For those traveling to New York City, we are working to procure reasonably priced suites in a residence hall on campus. More details will be available at our conference website, www.melville2019.weebly.com, scheduled to go live the last week of September.
Lisbon Melville Conference
"Over Seas: Melville, Whitman and All the Intrepid Sailors"
University of Lisbon - Center for English Studies
July 3 – 5, 2019
Herman Melville (1819-1891), sailor and writer, plowed the ocean as a tablet to be read, gazing at the white page where unfathomable characters surface to the eyes of the puzzled reader. “Captain” Walt Whitman (1819-1892), on the other hand, writing “in cabin’d ships at sea,” broke open and passed the divide between in- and out-of-doors, as he urged his book to “speed on.” Both were born 200 years ago.
ULICES' Research Group in American Studies is pleased to announce the international conference and exhibition “Over_Seas: Melville, Whitman and All the Intrepid Sailors,” to be held on 3-5 July, 2019. We aim to foreground the international afterlife of both authors and their contribution to the interconnectedness between the arts, sciences, human philosophy and history, with a special focus on the imagination and memory of the oceans. In line with one of the group’s main axes of research, “(Re)imagining shared pasts over the sea and across borders: dialogue, reception and projections between the USA, the Americas, and Europe,” the title “Over_Seas” accommodates an eagerness to pore over the depths of wild and cultured nature(s), as well as the transatlantic and transnational dynamics that Melville, Whitman, and various writers on both sides of the Atlantic have helped to shape. In Portugal, the Atlantic will also be the subject of a special celebration in 2019, the 500th anniversary of Fernão de Magalhães’s circumnavigation voyage.
The events of our conference will take place at the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon, the Portuguese National Library, and other public spaces devoted to cultural dissemination and to the promotion of the vital resources within our ocean(s).
This bicentennial celebration aims to bring together scholars with expertise not only in nineteenth- century American literature and culture, but also in areas related with the broader and interdisciplinary themes envisaged by the conference itself. Participation of junior researchers and students is especially welcome. Possible topics include:
The 12th Biennial Symbiosis Conference
July 11-14, 2019, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK
The 12th Biennial Symbiosis Conference will take place at the University of Dundee, Scotland, 11-14 July 2019.
There will be three special themes:
Dundee in the spotlight:
Dundee is one of the great powerhouses of comics production, not just in the UK, but internationally. The publisher DC Thomson is at the heart of the city, and many of the top comics creators in Britain began their careers with the company or have been inspired by Dundee’s comics. It is therefore fitting that Dundee hosts annual events that celebrate this legacy, and that the University of Dundee offers courses in Comics Studies at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
The University of Dundee is a world leader in Anatomy and Human Identification and hosts the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science. Harnessing this scientific expertise, Dundee now offers a Masters in Creative Writing: Crime Fiction and Forensic Investigation. Scotland has a flourishing crime writing scene with several crime festivals in stunning historic locations celebrating the ‘tartan noir’ phenomenon.
Located on the east coast, Dundee is Scotland’s sunniest city, and one of the easiest to get to. It has a regional airport, but Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are also conveniently close. 90% of Scotland is within 90 minutes’ drive, with famous castles, lochs and golf courses easy to visit even for a daytrip.
Co-hosted by the University of Lille and Paris-Diderot University (France)
October 17-18, 2019
"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.
Ahab’s exclamation notwithstanding, Moby-Dick more readily calls to mind the longing for the “unshored, haborless immensities” (ch. 32), “indefinite as God” (ch. 23), than down-to-earth measures taken to apprehend or comprehend “the ungraspable phantom of life” (ch. 1). Significantly enough, “if money’s to be the measurer,” Ahab’s doubloon is an ambivalent gold standard, at once the symbol of rampant capitalism that has transformed the world into a “great counting-house,” the effigy of Ahab’s sovereign self and a figure for Ishmael’s continual forging of symbols of his own coinage. Even as it bears the stamp of Ahab’s empire, the gold coin remains a source of numberless speculations for Ishmael. “The measure” is rife with ambiguities.
MLA Conference 2020
Seattle, WA - January 9-12
Melville, Gesture, Love
“Thus Spake Zarathustra,” writes Agamben, is “the ballet of a humanity that has lost its gestures.” Melville’s corpus, it may be imagined, presents a ballet of gestures in the felt absence (thus spake “Bartleby’s” flummoxed narrator) of humanity. Ahab and Pip, Vere and Billy Budd (for that matter, everyone and Billy), Ishmael and Queequeg, Pierre and Isabel: love circuits through Melville’s characters like an Emersonian force, illuminating what in Melvillean characterology seems least substantive, least persuasive. It is arguably love’s failure along characterological lines that may draw our attention to its constitutive gestures, the frequency with which it surfaces across Melville’s oeuvre as a specifically textual matter: figuratively jubilant, expressively incessant spume recalling Werner Hamacher’s definition of gesture as “what remains of language after meaning is withdrawn from it,” or Roland Barthes’s understanding of gesture as a “quantum of phantasmatic brilliance, of desire, or of pleasure.” This Melville Society panel is envisioned as an opportunity for reconsidering both the contours and qualities of love’s gestures and our own love, as critics and theorists, of the gesture. After all, the concept of gesture has for some time gestured toward something strange and strangely alive at the heart of Melville’s enterprise—this isn’t unfamiliar terrain, and yet the term’s tenacity and continued salience suggests that Melvillean gesture (or our relation to it) has not yet fully done its office. How might the unfixed relation of these terms speak to the historical haunting of Battle-Pieces, to Clarel’s experiments in fidelity and scale, to the antiquary geology of “The Encantadas”? Or only somewhat more straightforwardly, the sumptuous queerness of Melville’s attachment to Hawthorne, not to mention the sumptuousness of what Newton Arvin describes as Melville’s “love of rare adjectives.”
From his early review of Parkman’s The Oregon Trail and South Pacific romances, to Moby-Dick, “The Encantadas,” The Confidence-Man, and later poetry such as Clarel and John Marr, Melville offers manifold representations of indigenous characters and peoples. Nonetheless, there has been comparatively little critical attention devoted to the prevalence and force of these representations and to the questions they raise. How, then, might Melville’s work relate to recent work in Native American Studies, indigenous studies or anthropology, or to the historical contexts of nineteenth-century US imperial expansion? How might Melville’s indigeneities open new contexts for understanding the transnational, cosmopolitan, oceanic, or hemispheric approaches to American literature, or to recent nonanthropocentric approaches to his work? How does Melville address issues of violence, genocide, disappearance or “the metaphysics of Indian-hating,” and might it also limn what could be called a “microphysics of Indian loving”: of Tommo and Fayaway, of Ishmael and Queequeg? How does Melville’s writing relate to earlier depictions of Native Americans by Brockden Brown, Cooper, Irving, Child or Sedgwick, or fit among contemporary ones by Fuller or Thoreau?
Visit Our Media Pages
Featuring Videos from Our International Conferences and a Poetry Reading by Gordon Poole
Photo Gallery of the June 2017 London Conference on Flickr
Thanks to the photographers and participants in 11th International Conference in London last June
for sharing their memories and photos.
Click in the menu above to view the "Photos" page for a gallery of photos from the London 2017 conference.