The View from the Masthead

Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives

By Hester Blum

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5855-4
    Published: February 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0655-2
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8138-0
    Published: September 2012

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Awards & distinctions

2008 John Gardner Maritime Research Award, G. W. Blunt White Library

With long, solitary periods at sea, far from literary and cultural centers, sailors comprise a remarkable population of readers and writers. Although their contributions have been little recognized in literary history, seamen were important figures in the nineteenth-century American literary sphere. In the first book to explore their unique contribution to literary culture, Hester Blum examines the first-person narratives of working sailors, from little-known sea tales to more famous works by Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Henry Dana.

In their narratives, sailors wrote about how their working lives coexisted with--indeed, mutually drove--their imaginative lives. Even at leisure, they were always on the job site. Blum analyzes seamen's libraries, Barbary captivity narratives, naval memoirs, writings about the Galapagos Islands, Melville's sea vision, and the crisis of death and burial at sea. She argues that the extent of sailors' literacy and the range of their reading were unusual for a laboring class, belying the popular image of Jack Tar as merely a swaggering, profane, or marginal figure. As Blum demonstrates, seamen's narratives propose a method for aligning labor and contemplation that has broader applications for the study of American literature and history.

About the Author

Hester Blum is associate professor of English at Pennsylvania State University.
For more information about Hester Blum, visit the Author Page.


"A rich meditation on the literary culture of early national and antebellum sailors and the cultural work their narratives performed."--New England Quarterly

"A much-needed literary and cultural critic's perspective."--American Historical Review

"Thanks to this fascinating and informative study, it is as difficult to conceive of maritime literature without sailor narratives as it is to remember that the contributions of sailors to literary culture have until this moment gone unrecognized in literary history."--Common-Place

"Essential reading for those interested in the sea and in narrative theory."--The Journal of American History

"[An] intelligently argued book."--International Journal of Maritime History

"A dense, highly intellectual study of American sea writing in the first half of the nineteenth century. . . . Provocative and thoughtful."--Maryland Historical Magazine