The Melville Society Cultural Project sponsors several annual events. Coming this July 3oth, at 7:30 in the New Bedford Whaling Museum theater: Melville Birthday Lecture, Trying Leviathan, in celebration of Melville’s birthday (August 1).
This lecture will be given by D. Graham Burnett , associate professor of history at Princeton University.
Mr. Burnett is author of recently published: Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature.
In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recounts the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new science of taxonomy against the then-popular—and biblically sanctioned—view that the whale was a fish. What began as a seemingly mundane dispute over the regulation of whale oil soon fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature was at stake. Burnett vividly recreates the trial, during which a parade of pompous professors, pea-coated whalemen, and Jacobin lawyers harangued the jury by turns, each brandishing a different smoking gun: detailed anatomical drawings, Melvillian tales from the high seas, and ancient legal codes. Falling between the scientific breakthroughs of Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period for human understanding of the natural world.
(published by Princeton University Press)