“The Constitutions of Herman Melville,” MRSEAH with Hobart and William Smith Colleges Historian Matthew Crow
Hobart and William Smith Colleges Associate Professor of History Matthew Crow will be the featured guest at the October 1 meeting of the Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History in Columbia, presenting for discussion a chapter draft from his current book project which uses the writings of Herman Melville to reflect on early modern historiography and the attention Melville and others paid to legal history, questions of equity and legal pluralism, symbolism and ethnography, and more. See the chapter abstract below, and more information about the gathering will be provided as we get closer to the event date.
Melville’s extended allegorical use of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is one among many of his reflections on the porous boundaries between public and private law. As Hobbes and Melville understood, the transoceanic reach of early modern empires brought out tensions in emergent understandings of the rule of law that implicated the legitimacy of public order in stated promises of remedy and security amidst the omnipresent occurrences of purportedly private wrongs. The book chapter draft being presented for discussion traces Melville’s use of the Bounty mutiny, the Somers affair, their legal and literary ramifications for other writers, and his own experience at sea to examine the strange persistence of prerogative power and discretionary justice in the wake of the age of republican revolutions.
Matthew Crow is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Law and Society program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. He received his PhD from UCLA in 2011, and in addition to several articles and essays, he is the author of Thomas Jefferson, Legal History, and the Art of Recollection, published by Cambridge University Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a second book project about Herman Melville and the idea of justice, in addition to future projects about the ocean and coasts in U.S. legal and intellectual history.