Whalemen's Song: Lyrics and Masculinity in the Sag Harbor Whalefishery, 1840-1850
Sanfilippo, Stephen Nicholas
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Abstract for the Dissertation Whalemen's Song: Lyrics and Masculinity in the Sag Harbor Whalefishery, 1840-1850 by Stephen Nicholas Sanfilippo Doctor of Philosopy in History Stony Brook University 2010 "Whalemen's Song" is a gender-based examination of conceptions and performances of masculinity among Long Islanders of British ancestry who whaled out of Sag Harbor in the 1840s. Its theoretical basis is that masculinity is cultural and demonstrated in performance, with concepts and performances varying from man to man, betwen and among groups of men, and in relation to various "others," depending upon the particulars of a situation, including for whom masculinity is being performed. Three basic concepts of masculinity will be discussed: the Victorian bourgeois man, informed primarily by achieving economic success and status; the evangelical Christian man, informed by concern for personal salvation and for fulfilling his Christian obligations as family provider; and the secular libertine, informed by a pursuit of immediate pleasure without regard to bourgeois or Christian moral and economic restraints. The whaleship is considered as an enclosed, mobile, industrial company town, under the control of a captain legally empowered to inflict severe corporal punishment, and functioning as what Foucault called heterotopia, simultaneously creatig its own control. resistance, and inversion. Within this site 20 to 30 men lived and labored for 2 to 4 years, rarely going ashore. "Whalemen's Song" recognizes the importance of men and women of various ethnic and racial groups, but through examining Long Island's "Yankee" whalemen we can see the great differences of masculinity within one set of persons, making the whaleship the ideal for the study of varying performances of masculinity among men whose constant close contact exacerbated their differing, conflicting, and contested ideals of manhood with regard to labor, authority, women, alcohol, punishment, Christianity, and rights of citizenship. The dissertation is based upon extensive research into manuscripts held at eastern Long Island archives, using journals to establish whalemen's masculine attitudes, and their songs and poems as expository of these attitudes. It also extends Long Island into the wider project of bottom-up gender, social, cultural and maritime history.