English faculty member joins whaleship crew to study nautical storytelling

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Hester Blum, associate professor of English at Penn State, will join the captain and crew of the world's last surviving 19th-century whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, as a 38th Voyager during the ship’s historic voyage this summer. A scholar who studies writer Herman Melville and oceanic American studies, she is interested in the moments when nautical communities become literary communities, whether through shared reading, storytelling, performance or writing.

During the voyage, nearly 80 people, dubbed 38th Voyagers, will participate in an unprecedented public-history event. During one leg of the voyage, each 38th Voyager will take part in their own unique project using the Morgan as a focal point for their discoveries. The 38th Voyagers come from across the world and a wide variety of backgrounds including artists, historians, scientists, journalists, teachers, musicians, scholars and descendants of whaling crews. Once back on shore, each 38th Voyager will submit a personal work that embodies their experience. These works may be incorporated into a coming exhibit at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut.

''It is a great thrill to be sailing out of New Bedford, the port from which Herman Melville first launched his own whaling voyage, and the port from which the Morgan herself originally departed,'' said Blum.

Hester Blum

Hester Blum is an associate professor of English at Penn State.

Image: Hester Blum

"I spend my professional life in libraries and archives, handling manuscripts, letters and books that are hundreds of years old and out of general circulation. But never before have I had the opportunity to 'inhabit' an archival monument such as the Charles W. Morgan. Sailors wrote and read extensively while aboard ship, and I will live that experience myself as a Voyager.''

A resident scholar of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Blum is working on a book on the print culture of polar exploration. She was recently awarded a 2014-15 fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete the book. In addition, Blum is an affiliate of the Center for American Literary Studies and the Penn State Polar Center.

The English faculty member in the College of the Liberal Arts will be sailing on the voyage's leg from New Bedford, Mass., to Buzzard's Bay, Mass., in early July. The Morgan’s 38th Voyage, her first since 1921, will take her to historic ports across southern New England including visits to New London, Conn.; Newport, R.I.; and Vineyard Haven, New Bedford and Boston, Mass., where she’ll dock next to the USS Constitution. The ship will also anchor off the coast of Provincetown, Mass. for day sails to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where the Morgan will team up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct science demonstrations and observe whales in their natural environment.

The Morgan left Mystic Seaport on May 17 for New London, where she is completing her fitting out and will undergo sea trials. On June 14, the Morgan will continue her voyage as she sails to Newport. To follow the voyage in full, visit www.mysticseaport.org/38thvoyage.

You can follow Blum's voyage at @HesterBlum on Twitter or at http://sites.psu.edu/hester/. The 38th Voyager program has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Last Updated June 04, 2014