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Douglas and Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style compares the lives of Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville and shows how these two powerful nineteenth-century figures shared views on important American issues such as race, identity and nationhood. It explores their impact on American culture and the possibility that they were aware of each other’s work.
Today, Douglass and Melville have resurfaced as important figures in our cultural legacy. Frederick Douglass has become a necessary figure in our understanding of African-American history and literature. His speeches, essays, and autobiographies are increasingly regaining the kind of wide circulation they enjoyed in his lifetime. Melville’s status has continued to expand during the last four decades as a variety of his texts are now being appreciated for their multicultural insights. Melville is now valued for addressing many of the same contemporary issues that have brought new attention to the writings of Frederick Douglass.Although Douglass and Melville are regaining some of the cultural centrality they had during their lifetimes (1845-1855), their achievements still tend to be seen separately rather than together. Melville is often treated as a “white” American figure and Douglass as a “black” African-American figure—even though the lives and writings of each man take us “beyond the color line” in ways our culture needs to appreciate and understand. Academic disciplines tend to confine Melville to the literary curriculum, whereas Douglass can be found in history and political science as well as literature. Yet the works of both men cross disciplinary boundaries with a keen holistic vision. They were among the most insightful observers of race, slavery, and freedom in the nineteenth-century.
Robert K. Wallace is Regents Professor of Literature and Language at Northern Kentucky University. His previous books include Frank Stella's Moby-Dick, Melville and Turner, Jane Austen and Mozart, and Emily Bronte and Beethoven. Wallace is a past president of the Melville Society and an initiator of the international conference on Douglass and Melville in New Bedford in 2005. He has curated exhibitions on Herman Melville's print collection and Frank Stella's artwork in addition to Douglass and Melville: Our Bondage and Our Freedom (New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2005).