In Conversation with Steven Olsen-Smith | Melville’s Reading and the Arc of Literary Genius

Date / Time

  • October 10, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


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

Herman Melville acquired some 1,000 books prior to his death, after which his library was dispersed among family members and second-hand book dealers. Less than a third of the collection is known to survive, but copies with his autograph and notes continue to resurface. Ranging from source books on whaling to Shakespeare’s dramatic works, Melville’s surviving books contain markings and notes that reveal the origins of powerful passages and themes in Moby-Dick and other writings. This slide-lecture will discuss ongoing efforts to trace the dispersal of Melville’s library and analyze evidence of his reading, including technical recovery of annotations that were erased after his death, and will address the role of Melville’s engagement with books in the formation of his genius and the creation of his art.

About the Speaker

Steven Olsen-Smith specializes in early and 19th-century American literature, with active research agendas on Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. He joined the Boise State University English department in 2000, and he currently holds the Holland H. Coors Endowed Visiting Chair in the Department of English and Fine Arts at the United States Air Force Academy. His work combines traditional archival research and analytical bibliography with digital technology. As General Editor of Melville’s Marginalia Online, he is the primary scholar responsible for tracking the recovery of the author’s personal library, which numbered some 1,000 volumes when it was dispersed following his death in 1891. Olsen-Smith is the editor of Melville in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates (University of Iowa Press, 2015).

Join the Conversation

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation With The Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers audience members a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions.

Seating is limited; advance registration is strongly recommended.