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Resources on the history of whaling in Special Collections at Williams College

Commercial Whaling

Commercial whaling in the United States was established in the mid- to late 17th century and reached its peak around 1850. Nantucket and New Bedford in Massachusetts, and later San Francisco, were important centers of operation. Among the men who crewed the whaling vessels were many African-Americans and Native Americans. Voyages could last for years, and range far from American coasts. Men sailed to all parts of the world in order to meet a strong consumer demand for whale oil and for products made from baleen. The industry began to decline, however, in the last half of the 19th century, as fewer whales were available to catch (the population would continue to decrease) and, in particular, as petroleum replaced whale oil for lighting and lubrication.

Many of these books were given to the Chapin Library by O. Stuart Chase, Williams Class of 1954.

Works of Herman Melville in Special Collections

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick was his sixth book, and during his lifetime not a critical success. Only after the centennial of his birth in 1919 and the publication of Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic by Raymond M. Weaver (1921) were the author and his masterpiece given wider attention. Since that time, Moby-Dick has appeared in dozens of editions, abridgments, and adaptations, and writings about it are legion.

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These materials may be used in the Archives/Chapin reading room in Sawyer Library, Room 441.