Moby Dick: How Scientists Came to Love the Whale
D. Graham Burnett
In conversation with Amy Parish, primatologist and Darwinian feminist
How was our understanding of whales transformed from grotesque monsters, useful only as wallowing kegs of fat, to playful friends of humanity and bellwethers of environmental devastation? Burnett, a historian of science and energetic polymath, offers a sweeping history of how science, politics, and simple human wonder have transformed our way of seeing these behemoths from below.
* Part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Library’s month-long citywide initiative "What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?"
D. Graham Burnett teaches at Princeton University where he holds an appointment as Professor of History and History of Science, and affiliations with the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities (I-HUM), the School of Architecture, and the Princeton Environmental Institute. He is a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow. Burnett studies the relationship between power and knowledge, and writes on human beings’ changing understanding of nature, art, and technology. He is the author of five books, including Trying Leviathan, winner of the New York City Book Award, which surveys changing ideas of natural order across the hundred years that stretched from the writings of Linnaeus to those of Darwin; and The Sounding of the Whale, his study of the remarkable cultural and scientific life of cetaceans in the last century, a period that saw these animals go from industrial commodities to avatars of the Age of Aquarius. Graham Burnett is also an editor at Cabinet, the Brooklyn-based quarterly of art and culture.
Dr. Amy Parish is a biological anthropologist, primatologist, and Darwinian feminist, who has conducted ground-breaking research on patterns of female dominance and matriarchal social structure in one of our closest living relatives, the bonobo. Formerly a professor at the University of Southern California for 13 years, she is now affiliated faculty at Georgetown University and a research associate at University College London. Parish is currently working on a book about love, marriage, and the experience of being a wife.
Photo credit: Mike Baird