Melville and American Exceptionalism

Herman Melville acted as both champion and critic of the rapidly changing, expanding United States of the nineteenth century. His experiences in the South Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe, combined with his notable ancestry as grandson to two major figures of the American Revolution, helped to form Melville's ambivalent voice regarding his country's regard for itself as unique among the nations of the world in its freedoms, principles, and "manifest destiny." What can his views on imperialism, slavery, Indigenous peoples, religion, and the development of a national literature teach us (and help us teach) about the American experiment? This seminar will explore this question with excerpts from works such as Typee, Mardi, Moby Dick, The Confidence Man, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," and "Benito Cereno," as well as Melville's underappreciated poetry on the Civil War and other topics. The seminar will include a guided tour of the exhibition, "Melville: Finding America at Sea."