Virtual Program | In Bed with Ishmael: Queer Approaches to the Life, Work, and Legacy of Herman Melville

Date / Time

  • June 18, 2020
    7:30 pm - 8:30 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States

In Bed with Ishmael is presented as part of The Rosenbach’s celebration of Pride Month 2020, and alongside American Voyager: Herman Melville at 200.

Was Herman Melville in love with Nathaniel Hawthorne? Why did Queequeg and Ishmael spend so much time snuggling in Moby-Dick? Readers have long detected queer elements throughout Herman Melville’s writings, and even in his own life. Yet so much about Melville’s biography—and the “correct” meaning of his literary works—remains shrouded in uncertainty. In this virtual program, we will use queer theory to analyze Melville’s writings and, in the process, destabilize conventional understandings of gender, sexuality, family, and identity, from the nineteenth century to the present. Rather than settling on firm answers to the questions above, the program will inspire readers to embrace the ambiguity in Melville’s works as an example of the importance of questioning hetero-normative assumptions about art and history.

In Bed with Ishmael will introduce you to The Rosenbach’s rich collection of Herman Melville rare books, manuscripts, and related artifacts; reveal how queer theory and a gendered approach to culture can enrich understandings of Melville’s writings, and dive into key passages of Typee, Redburn, Moby-Dick, Billy-Budd, and Pierre, to unlock multiple meanings from these complex texts. Special attention will be paid to the intersection of race, ethnicity, global voyage, and erotic exploration in Melville’s works. In this interpretation, Ishmael and Queequeg’s shared bed at the Spouter Inn becomes an ocean of exploration, a cultural contact zone, and an artifact of economic imperialism in the Age of Sail.

Program is free; advance registration is required. This interactive program will be held on Zoom. Be sure to register in advance to receive email instructions ahead of the meeting time.


Following the program, participants will be e-mailed a curated selection of digital readings, including The Rosenbach’s special “Queer Melville” Chart Your Own Voyage gallery guide.

Image credit:
Rockwell Kent, illustration from the 1930 Lakeside Press edition of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, found at the beginning of Chapter 4, “The Counterpane.” Rights courtesy of Plattsburgh State Art Museum, State University of New York, USA, Rockwell Kent Collection, Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton. All rights reserved.

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