Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville

Essays in Relation

Edited by Robert S. Levine, Samuel Otter

488 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 illus., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5872-1
    Published: March 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0669-9
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8086-4
    Published: September 2012

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Awards & distinctions

Contains the 2009 Hennig Cohen Prize-winning essay by Hester Blum

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and Herman Melville (1819-1891) addressed in their writings a range of issues that continue to resonate in American culture: the reach and limits of democracy; the nature of freedom; the roles of race, gender, and sexuality; and the place of the United States in the world. Yet they are rarely discussed together, perhaps because of their differences in race and social position. Douglass escaped from slavery and tied his well-received nonfiction writing to political activism, becoming a figure of international prominence. Melville was the grandson of Revolutionary War heroes and addressed urgent issues through fiction and poetry, laboring in increasing obscurity.

In eighteen original essays, the contributors to this collection explore the convergences and divergences of these two extraordinary literary lives. Developing new perspectives on literature, biography, race, gender, and politics, this volume ultimately raises questions that help rewrite the color line in nineteenth-century studies.


Elizabeth Barnes, College of William and Mary

Hester Blum, The Pennsylvania State University

Russ Castronovo, University of Wisconsin-Madison

John Ernest, West Virginia University

William Gleason, Princeton University

Gregory Jay, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Carolyn L. Karcher, Washington, D.C.

Rodrigo Lazo, University of California, Irvine

Maurice S. Lee, Boston University

Robert S. Levine, University of Maryland, College Park

Steven Mailloux, University of California, Irvine

Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt University

Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley

John Stauffer, Harvard University

Sterling Stuckey, University of California, Riverside

Eric J. Sundquist, University of California, Los Angeles

Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Irvine

Susan M. Ryan, University of Louisville

David Van Leer, University of California, Davis

Maurice Wallace, Duke University

Robert K. Wallace, Northern Kentucky University

Kenneth W. Warren, University of Chicago

About the Authors

Robert S. Levine is professor of English at the University of Maryland and author or editor of a number of books, including Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (both from the University of North Carolina Press).
For more information about Robert S. Levine, visit the Author Page.

Samuel Otter is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Melville's Anatomies.
For more information about Samuel Otter, visit the Author Page.



"This volume is an example of the most important work being done in American literary studies today. The essays--many of them by high-profile Americanists--work against simple veneration of Douglass and Melville, instead offering incisive and much-needed commentary on the larger debates, tensions, and opportunities within which both authors worked."--Caroline Levander, Rice University

"Representing a range of perspectives generated by some of the most interesting analysts of nineteenth-century U.S. literary and cultural history, this volume makes an exciting and important contribution to the field. It also offers an excellent opportunity to meditate on the project of literary criticism by considering the insights that emerge when scholars are prompted to consider the relationship between two authors who, although both brilliant literary observers of an extraordinary moment, have traditionally been viewed in very different contexts. The result is a collection that will endure and will be taught widely in conjunction with nineteenth-century U.S. literature surveys and history classes."--Priscilla Wald, Duke University