Sponsored by the Purdue Circle for America-Pacific Studies and Western Oregon University
The Melville in the Marquesas Project began with an international conference and expedition in Tahiti, Moorea and the Marquesas Islands (June 29 - July 10, 2003). The early South Pacific experience of the young Herman Melville in the 1840s was formative for the author, whom many regard as America's first great novelist and whose work, Moby-Dick , has been called "the Great American Novel." At the age of twenty-one, Melville shipped out from Fairhaven, Massachusetts as a common sailor in January 1841 and spent the next several years exploring what he calls the "watery part of the world," encountering a wide variety of environments, wildlife, people and cultures.
Polynesian culture in particular looms large in his first books. Typee (1846) details his sojourn on the Marquesan island of Nuku Hiva in the summer of 1842 among the cannibal tribe of the fierce yet strangely engaging Taipi people. Omoo (1847) continues the story after an escape from the captivity in Nuku Hiva, taking the narrator to Tahiti, Moorea and ultimately to the Hawaiian Islands. Mardi (1849) is a complex allegorical political romance that addresses the problems of intercultural understanding; it critiques Western colonialism, hypocritical religious empire building, and the political struggles for dominance among the great powers of the time. These themes and the Pacific Ocean marine and island environments are major aspects of Moby-Dick (1851).
The Melville in the Marquesas Conference was the exploratory, inaugural meeting of the newly formed Circle for America-Pacific Studies, initiated by the faculty of Purdue University and being worked out in conjunction with faculty at Western Oregon University. Herman Melville is the starting point of what we hope will be a broad-ranging America-Pacific series of conferences and publications. We encourage interdisciplinary and intercultural approaches--intersections of native cultures with colonialist history and postcolonial issues--including literature, the visual arts, music, dance, religion, cuisine, fishing, sexual practices, tattooing, and so forth. Thus disciplines such as literature, philosophy & religion, the arts, archeology & anthropology, natural history, political science & history are all essential to our endeavors.