Bicentennial Melville Panel

deadline for submissions: 
June 10, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
PAMLA Conference 2019 (Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association)
contact email: 

This panel celebrates the bicentennial of Herman Melville’s birth on August 1st, 1819 by welcoming papers on any aspect of Melville’s legacy both during and after the nineteenth century. Possible paper topics may include, but are not limited to: how Melville’s works may speak to contemporary issues; Melville’s literary influences and how he employs them in his works; other writers who were influenced by Melville and how this influence manifests in their works; the 1920’s Melville revival; Melville's depiction of racial, cultural, sexual, or gender plurality; or textual and thematic analyses of any of Melville’s works. This session also welcomes any papers that connect Melville's works to this year’s conference theme: "Send in the Clowns.” This could include explorations of Melville’s use of humor and satire or his use of the carnivalesque.

This panel will focus on the influence of Herman Melville and his works especially given that 2019 will be the bicentennial of his birth. His masterpiece, Moby-Dick, blurs traditional genre boundaries and even crosses literary periodization boundaries as it is possible to analyze the book in terms of how it fits into Romanticism, Naturalism, and even, surprisingly, Postmodernism for some of its stylistic and epistemological choices. Melville’s reception is particularly interesting due to the way that he faded from the cultural memory after publishing Moby-Dick, Pierre, and other controversial works. As Melville himself points out to Hawthorne, if he were to be remembered during the nineteenth century, he would not be remembered as much for his experimental writing in Moby-Dick, but rather for his earlier travel narratives such as Typee and for being “the man who lived among the cannibals.” This changed drastically when Melville was reintroduced to literary attention in the 1920s and has since resulted in significant scholarship on all of Melville’s works including works that were largely ignored during Melville’s lifetime. The fact that Melville’s readers from the 1850s and his readers from 1920s can paint drastically different pictures of Melville’s literary talents and which works of his should be considered seminal is fascinating in and of itself, but it is equally fascinating to see how attitudes toward Melville continue to evolve in both the literary scholarship and the general reader’s imagination. Recent popular articles such as Ariel Dorfman’s “What Herman Melville Can Teach Us About the Trump Era” compare the Trump Administration to Melville’s Confidence Man and Captain Ahab which illustrates the way that Melville’s works may continue to help individuals find methods of negotiating contemporary issues in our society. Additionally, movies such as Star Trek: First Contact point out the way that shared knowledge of Melville’s works could potentially serve as a cultural touchstone and communication link between different ages as a 21st century woman is able to use Captain Ahab as an icon that persuades the 24th century Captain Picard to abandon his quest for vengeance. Given that Melville’s works and Melville himself have been interpreted a variety of different ways over the course of the past two centuries, this panel would welcome papers that explore what Melville meant to his nineteenth-century readers, what he meant to those who read his works during the 1920’s revival, and what he means to us today.

The Conference will be held in San Diego, CA from Thursday, November 14 until Sunday, November 17, at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside hotel. To propose a paper to this session please go to and create a user account. Once you have created your account, you can scroll through the list of available panels and submit your proposal to the Melville Panel.