Whale, Ho! The 19th-century whaling industry comes to life

19-centurty whaling ship

“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath...” Melville’s classic words capture the mystery and appeal of an ocean-going industry that dominated the world’s economy in the 1800s. Facing months at sea, with dangers abounding and death a constant companion, men nonetheless set sail for distant horizons in search of the elusive sperm whale, hunted to near-extinction. This course will provide an overview of the 19th-century whaling industry—its importance, the process of whaling, and the daily life of a whaler. We will focus on the diversity of whaling crews, paying particular attention to the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling vessel in the world. We will also discuss how our perception of whales has changed over time. 

The course will conclude with a daylong visit to Mystic Seaport, where experts will shed new light on the bygone art and craft of whale hunting, seamanship, and nautical life. The day will include a tour of the Charles W. Morgan; an opportunity for intrepid souls to climb the rigging of the Joseph Conrad while the less intrepid explore other whaling activities; a catboat sail; and a tour of the current exhibition with a gallery talk.

Instructor: Marc Vakassian, Mystic Seaport Museum Educator and Interpreter

Dates and time: Tuesdays, May 17 and 24 and June 7, 6:30–8 pm, Wasch Center Butterfield Room, Wesleyan campus

 Field trip to Mystic Seaport: Saturday, June 11, 2022 (rain date June 18). 10-am-4:00 pm

Instructors: Mystic Seaport Museum staff

Saturday, 6/11 for the on-site field trip to Mystic CT (rain date, 6/18).

Events at Mystic Seaport, to include waterfront activities and a talk at the Maritime Gallery exhibit: “Sailor Made, Folk Art of the Sea.”


· 10:00am Arrival

· 10:30am-12:00pm In-depth tour of the Charles W. Morgan

· 12:00-1:00pm Lunch

1:00-2:00pm Climbing the rigging on the Joseph Conrad (optional of course!); alternative

activity for those who do not want to climb, scrimshaw activity, line handling, block & tackle, harpoon throwing.

· 2:00-3:00pm Whaleboat rowing, sailing on the catboat, Breck Marshall

3:00-4:00pm Maritime Gallery talk: Sailor Made, Folk Art of the Sea, or Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers

Instructor: Marc Vakassian

Date: Tuesdays, May 17, May 24, June 7, Field trip to Mystic Seaport Museum on Saturday, June 11

Time: 6:30–8 pm

Location: Wasch Center Butterfield Room