Ahab's leg : a disability history of Yankee whaling



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This dissertation, presented in graphic novel format, examines the history of Nantucket whaling through a disability lens. It characterizes whaling, once one of the United States’ most lucrative industries, as the nation’s first foray into unsustainable energy extraction. Beginning with shore whaling, this work studies the ways in which industrial accidents on board incredibly dangerous whaleships make the industry unique when it came to “maiming” whalers. It next examines scientific understandings of whaling and disabled people during the height of Yankee whaling, observing scientific classifications of both animals and disabled people in popular culture and entertainment (such as public dissections and freak shows). Next, the dissertation analyzes how the early Republic used whaling not simply as an industry, but as a pretext to assert American geopolitical influence and naval expansion by examining case studies of Yankee whaling’s impact on 19th century Hawaii and Alaska. Penultimately, the dissertation examines the decline of Yankee whaling, the rise of the late 19th century, international industrial whaling, the rise of the Save the Whales movement and the implications of that movement for disability studies. To conclude, the dissertation proposes new ways of thinking when it comes to environmental justice for disabled people and whales in the present day.


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