Robert Vonnoh, (American, 1858 - 1933), Frosty Morning , 1904, oil on canvas. Gift of Danielle and Michael Barger in memory of Gisele and Harold Jaffe._x1200

The Gam: A Social Meeting of Two or More Whale-Ships


On April 8, the museum had a “Gam”! As Melville writes in Chapter 53 of Moby-Dick, the Gam is “A social meeting of two (or more) whale-ships generally on a cruising-ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boat’s crews…”

We invited faculty from Williams-Mystic program (a.k.a. “ship” from Mystic CT) to join faculty from Williams in English, Humanities, and Environmental Studies (“ship” from Williamstown MA) and to discuss different themes in the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville and the sculpture Mocha Dick by Tristin Lowe.

James T. Carlton, Professor of Marine Sciences, Williams College, and Director, Williams-Mystic Program, answered our questions about the biology of whales, but acknowledged there is much we don’t know and that fascinates us still. Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, Associate Professor of English, University of Connecticut; Senior Lecturer in Literature of the Sea, Williams-Mystic Program, talked about Melville’s life, sources, and his writing process, as well as the burgeoning number of scholars working on this great novel. Glenn Gordinier, Robert G. Albion Historian, Williams-Mystic Program; Co-Director, The Munson Institute, Mystic Seaport, gave voice to sailors’ experiences in the whaling industry of the nineteenth century. Peter Erickson, Visiting Professor of Humanities, Williams College, discussed issues of “whiteness” as they appear in the “textile and the text” and considered Wolcott’s work as a foil. Williams S. Lynn, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Williams College, discussed environmental ethics, the notion of who is part of a moral community, and “lifeboat ethics.” Shawn Rosenheim, Professor of English, Williams College, commented on issues of scale in the novel and what Melville’s reaction to this sculpture might be. In the background, the sounds of a sperm whale clicked. Thanks to the 75 members of the community for attending and participating in the discussion. We hope the discussion will continue!

As Melville writes in the Chapter, “The Whiteness of the Whale”: “What the white whale was to Ahab has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.”

It is for each of us to look at the sculpture, and consider the whale and all the issues that come to the surface.

– Cynthia Way, Director of Education and Visitor Experience

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