Moby-Dick and Modern America: A Summer Reading Course

One of the best things about a good book is that it can be read at any time of year, at any time of day, and it will draw you in. Sure, a book like White Fang may have even greater impact if you read it on cold winter nights. You may feel the dusty Alabama setting of To Kill A Mockingbird even more if you read it during a hot, dry summer. Yet, these are compelling stories no matter when you read them. The same can be said for Moby-Dick.

Many of you know that we choose to hold our Moby-Dick Marathon in January because it was January of 1841 when Herman Melville sailed out of New Bedford harbor on the whaleship Acushnet. However, there are Moby-Dick reading marathons in other cities that happen throughout the year. It’s a great book, to many, the greatest novel ever. The season in which you read it isn’t particularly important.

In that vein, former NBWM curatorial intern Evander Price, now a doctoral student in Harvard’s American Studies program, is looking to connect high school students to Moby-Dick after their school year is over.  This summer, he is teaching a high school course on Moby-Dick through MIT’s intensive summer program, Junction, which aims to provide intense, college-level academic courses for high school students.  He invites any brave green whalers who might be interested aboard his literary ship.  Applications are due April 10th, though late applications will be accepted up until May (precise date TBD).  See course description below, and on Junction’s website.


Title: Moby-Dick and Modern America


“I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as a lamb.”

–Melville in a Letter to Hawthorne, July 1851

This class is an introduction to Herman Melville’s famous epic, Moby-Dick; we will read the book in its entirety.  This course explores a wide range of subjects, such as: philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, World/American/Scientific/Maritime history, art, mythology (Greek and otherwise), cetology, geography, popular art/ culture, justice, poetry, environmentalism, etymology, civilization, savagery, Shakespeare, heroism, war, nothingness, evil, darkness, hell, the abyss, god, death, race, religion, monstrousness, genius, madness, wisdom, ethics, eschatology and some slice of the complexity of existence within the human condition.

We will embark on this literary ship of the past as it winds its way from the world’s beginning to the present day, beginning at page one with Ishmael, a young man who, contemplating suicide, instead decides to commit himself to sea.  You can expect to finish this class with no answers, but rather, a firm grasp of the magnitude of the questions.  You can expect to improve enormously as a reader, to be mind-blown, blubber-brained, and equipped with a whole new set of philosophical and analytical tools to approach any daunting work of great literature you may read in the future.  Have no fear: we will work together as a crew to harpoon this evil epic.  Join me on a whaling voyage around the world!

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