Rendered Obsolete

Energy Culture and the Afterlife of US Whaling

By Jamie L. Jones

262 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7482-7
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7483-4
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6001-9
    Published: August 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7481-0
    Published: August 2023

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Through the mid-nineteenth century, the US whaling industry helped drive industrialization and urbanization, providing whale oil to lubricate and illuminate the country. The Pennsylvania petroleum boom of the 1860s brought cheap and plentiful petroleum into the market, decimating whale oil's popularity. Here, from our modern age of fossil fuels, Jamie L. Jones uses literary and cultural history to show how the whaling industry held firm in US popular culture even as it slid into obsolescence. Jones shows just how instrumental whaling was to the very idea of "energy" in American culture and how it came to mean a fusion of labor, production, and the circulation of power. She argues that dying industries exert real force on environmental perceptions and cultural imaginations.

Analyzing a vast archive that includes novels, periodicals, artifacts from whaling ships, tourist attractions, and even whale carcasses, Jones explores the histories of race, labor, and energy consumption in the nineteenth-century United States through the lens of the whaling industry's legacy. In terms of how they view power, Americans are, she argues, still living in the shadow of the whale.

About the Author

Jamie L. Jones is assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For more information about Jamie L. Jones, visit the Author Page.


"Rendered Obsolete provides a compelling perspective on the history of whaling and how we understand energy consumption. The history of the American whaling industry is the history of extractive capitalism, and Jamie Jones's book is a fascinating account of how Americans came uncritically to affirm the narratives of technological progress promoted by the architects of energy regimes. This book will provide a crucial argument for thinking our way out of such narratives."—Hester Blum, Penn State University

"Jamie Jones makes a powerful argument against obsolescence, highlighting how outdated or outmoded cultural forms linger and persist long after their demise and, most importantly, continue to perform cultural work. Rendered Obsolete makes a very persuasive case for the ways that whaling culture, despite the prolonged demise of whaling, helped shape our current era of intense fossil fuel consumption."—Jeffrey Insko, Oakland University