Call Me Herman: The Life and Writings of Herman Melville is a freely accessible collection of reference databases related to the life and writings of the 19th century American author, Herman Melville. After spending a mere 11 years writing and publishing a series of travel narratives and novels that culminated in the rhetorical, philosophical, and literary masterpiece that is Moby-Dick, Melville spent the last 35 years of his life writing and publishing poetry. Besides the four volumes of poetry he successfully saw through to publication — Battle-Pieces, Clarel, John Marr and Other Sailors, and Timoleon — at the time of his death he was still composing, revising, and arranging for publication three other verse-inspired or verse-filled volumes which he unfortunately did not live long enough to complete and publish: Billy Budd, Sailor; Weeds and Wildings Chiefly with a Rose or Two; and Parthenope.
Like any website, Call Me Herman is a work-in-progress, but even in its current, inchoate state, exploring its menus, submenus, and site map will provide visitors with a detailed overview of the entire corpus of Melville’s writings—published and unpublished, completed and uncompleted. The various databases include book and subject bibliographies sorted by author and year; a Melville Almanac that highlights important dates in Melville’s life; various annotated resource lists; an extensive selection of quotations; a gallery of art works that Melville saw, collected, or wrote about; and categorized listings of current and out of print books of Melville biography, criticism, and editions.
In addition to these archival resources, you will also find a calendar of upcoming events and links to Melville-related websites, blogs, and newsfeeds. The event calendar, links to various websites, blogs, and groups, and the constantly changing content of the newsfeeds indicate the extent to which Melville continues to attract, influence, and inspire readers, writers, scholars, visual artistis, critics, musicians, actors, and playwrights. A planned archive of cartoons and advertising copy will document Melville’s continuing influence on popular culture.
The Original Melville Room
Much as this website evolved out of a need for handy reference material, in the pre-internet decades of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, a similar need led to the establishment of what was to become the original Melville Room that was curated and housed on the second floor of Chicago’s Newberry Library. In the mid-1960s, the late Professor Harrison Hayford (1916–2001) of Northwestern University began to recruit scholars, editors, independent researchers, librarians, and graduate students to work on
editing and publishing scholarly, critical texts of Melville’s writings. As part of this effort, Hayford, with the help of Newberry Library staff—especially that of Richard Colles Johnson—collected, catalogued, and curated the many types of items that became the Newberry Library Melville Collection. Located in what became colloquially known as “The Melville Room,” the Newberry Melville collection was comprised of rare first editions of Melville’s writings, numerous file cabinets filled with copies or offprints of articles reviews, essays, and various sorts of Melvilliana. These file cabinets were surrounded by rows of bookshelves containing all the works of criticism and biography that had been published to date. The Newberry Library Melville Room served for decades as an essential repository of primary and secondary materials that Hayford and the Newberry staff made readily available to scholars, editors, and graduate students working not only on the texts of the multi-volume Northwestern-Newberry Writings of Herman Melville series, but on their own Melville-related research projects as well.
The Melville Society Archive
Most of the contents of the original Melville Room are now part of the Melville Society Archive, one of several projects administered by scholar and volunteer members of The Melville Society through its Melville Society Cultural Project. Working in collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum (NBWM), the Melville Society Archive is maintained as a part of the NBWM Research Library. Just as with the original Melville Room, anyone with an interest in doing research related to Melville’s life and writings is welcome to visit, study, and conduct research in New Bedford, MA using the resources of the Melville Society Archive. The MSCP accepts donations of books, manuscripts, papers, and photos. You can visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s website for detailed information about visiting, donating, and accessing the resources of the Melville Society Archive.
Database Websites and Traditional Brick and Mortar Archives
Doing original research in libraries, newspaper and periodical archives, museums, and historical society holdings will always be important and essential. But now, more than two decades into the digital information revolution, author- or subject-specific websites complement the resources of the various brick and mortar archives that have been and will continue to be essential to scholars, biographers, and critics doing original research. Two such websites that offer their own unique, complementary resources for Melville scholars, critics, editors, students, and readers are Melville’s Marginalia Online which makes available digital images of the annotations Melville made in books he owned, borrowed, or shared and the Melville Electronic Library which is in the process of establishing online versions of Melville’s writings. Like these two sites, Call Me Herman is proffered as a complementary resource to the archival holdings and catalogs of important and irreplaceable institutions like the Houghton Library of Harvard College, the Berkshire Historical Society, the Melville Society Archive housed and curated in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Mystic Seaport Museum, and the New York Public Library. You can of course add to this list many other libraries, museums, and newspaper and periodical archives located throughout the world that are important for understanding Melville’s life and writings.
I sat many hours in Northwestern University’s Harris lecture hall 107 during my years as an undergraduate and graduate student from 1968 to 1982.
As an undergraduate I listened to Alfred Appel lecture on James Joyce, Nathaniel West, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, and the modernist significance of the great jazz artists of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker. How many college lectures have a soundtrack?
Appel’s lectures on Nabokov and the pop culture motifs that form much of the substance of Lolita informed and entertained us. Much of the content of Appel’s lectures on Nabokov and Lolita can be found, mutatis mutandis, in Appel’s still authoritative Annotated Lolita. Students listened in attentive silence to his lectures on Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” and how Nick Adams found healing and relief for his battle-scarred psyche through fly fishing. This silence was atypical: more often than not, many of Appel’s lectures were punctuated with frequent laughter.
Appel made a lot of people laugh. I’ll never forget sitting in a Romantic poetry class on the second floor of University Hall when, just as Professor Gerald Prince was reciting these lines from Keats Ode to a Nightingale, “Away! away! for I will fly to thee, / Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,” Appel walks by the door opening to the hallway, flapping his arms like a bird. The class roared with laughter; Professor Prince, his back to the door, just stared at the class, mouth slightly open, dumbfounded.
In the early 70’s I also remember two other lecturers who held forth in Harris 107: anthropology professor Stuart Struever and, guru to the hippies, Stephen Gaskin.
Hearing anthropology professor Stuart Struever explain how the Vietnam War was essentially “maladaptive” encouraged students to continue or begin their protests of the war. I was so impressed and moved by the perspectives that an anthropological approach to understanding opened up that I changed my major to anthropology. During the 1970’s Struever was host to 100’s of student assistants who helped in excavating the 10,000 year old Hopewell burial mounds in Greene County, Illinois, about 270 miles south of Chicago. Struever was a colorful character who wore denim jeans and khaki short sleeved shirts as often as a tie and jacket, who interjected into his lectures stories of the years he spent buying and selling artifacts for import and trade in Africa. Think Indiana Jones.
One warm spring evening in 1970 I listened to Stephen Gaskin — eventual founder of The Farm coop that settled in Tennessee — give a talk from a seated zazen half lotus pose, a talk about Buddha, weed, psilocybin, LSD, Jesus, and enlightenment — not necessarily in that order. That lecture was eventually anthologized in Monday Night Class, still in print forty years later. I will also never forget wandering outside after Stephen’s talk to the parking lot along Lake Michigan and being invited into one of the caravan school buses that followed Stephen’s lecture tour from the left to right coast and back again. I hung out for an few hours with a several guys and girls who were sharing a converted school bus. To this day the smell of patchouli oil brings back with hallucinatory vividness that evening and that after-lecture party in a converted school bus.
As a graduate student teaching assistant some 10 years later in the early 80’s, I remember Martin Mueller’s lucid background lectures on Shakespeare, especially his talks about The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest. The last lectures I attended in Harris 107 were given by Henry Binder in a course comparing literary and cinematic treatments of the “American West” with evening screenings of Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and The Wild Bunch.
These memories of hearing experts on various and sundry topics holding forth on their chosen fields of literature, philosophy, religion, politics, history — memories now thirty and more years old — wash over me in mostly, but not always, pleasurable waves of nostalgia. Nostalgia cloys, does not really satisfy, but that is part of its poignancy, part of its seductive charm — the fact that it does not satisfy is part of what makes it what it is.
Recently I discovered Bound to Please, an anthology of a quarter century’s worth of book reviews by Washington Post Book World editor, Michael Dirda. Dirda has spent his professional life reveling in the writings, thoughts, and works of various authors, translators, biographers, artists, and historians who have each individually in turn dedicated their individual lives to exploring the works, thoughts, or times of their chosen subjects and fields of research.
Reading these reviews is like sitting once again as a bearded young man listening to an inspiring, knowledge-laden professor holding forth in Harris 107.
Postscript: By chance I happened to read recently that Harris Hall is being renovated. New generations scholars and, perhaps, a next-gen hippie-guru or two await their turns to lecture in Harris 107 to new generations of current and yet-to-be born Northwestern students preparing for their futures.
Is a second Melville revival underway? In her fascinating study of the writers, artists, scholars, and editors who took part in the first Melville revival—Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival—Clare Spark uses the term “phase” when discussing the different types of critical and editorial work done from 1919 to 1953 to bring the forgotten and unknown Melville and his writings to light.1 Following Spark we might accurately and effectively describe the recent fast growing interest in Melville the poet and his poetry as yet another, late phase of the first Melville revival.