New England whaling heritage: the impact of capitalism on preservation and public interpretation

Author: Justin Daley

Daley, Justin, 2020 New England whaling heritage: the impact of capitalism on preservation and public interpretation, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The 18th through 19th century New England whaling industry was the world’s leading whaling enterprise. It generated considerable wealth for dozens of emerging oligarchs whose descendants found themselves in a favorable position to subsequently define the interpretation of whaling heritage over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The central question posed in this thesis is: how did an evolving capitalist system influence the preservation and interpretation of the Yankee whaling industry (1712-1875) in New England? Through a detailed study of the indoor and outdoor interpretive resources of 12 communities, this research looks at what aspects of whaling heritage have been preserved, whether there is regional variation in preservation, how interpretations have been influenced by economic circumstances and changed over time, and how particular interpretations have been prioritized and presented to the public. Over 350 interpretive resources were analyzed, revealing differences in the distribution of interpretive resource types and the changes over pre-revival (<1870), revival (1870-1940) and post revival periods (>1940). While the early interpretive material reflects the more formal story of the Yankee elite, the revival period saw a dramatic shift to the Yankee working-class narrative during a time when few ‘whites’ were left in the industry. It was more than a century since the revival period began, before the story of minorities and immigrants gained headway.

There is considerable regional geographic variation in interpretive resources, largely resulting from where and when the consolidation of capital occurred in these communities. Ultimately, the geographic position of each community shaped its economic future, as those conducive to newer transportation networks were the most profitable. The increased need for labor during the Industrial Revolution resulted in a perceived a loss of social status by the Yankee elite, which resulted in their expropriation of history through the funding of statues, monuments, artwork, and other historical outlets of interpretation from the 1870s onwards. The conclusion of this research is that what survives in the historic landscape, historic literature, and the archaeological record reflects the ideologies of capitalism and its historic impact on whaling in New England.

Keywords: capitalism, New England, Yankee, whaling, heritage, minority, misrepresentation, archaeology, preservation, interpretation

Subject: History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Wendy Van Duivenvoorde