Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus


Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Katie Kane

Committee Co-chair

Louise Economides

Commitee Members

Christopher Preston


Melville, Nature, Technology, Environment, Affect


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Literature in English, North America | Other Philosophy


In the twenty-first century, the relationship between the human and the more-than-human is a problem of massive proportions, as we live in an age of climate change, mass-extinction, over-population, and resource depletion. Evaluating how we have arrived where we are and re-thinking the issues at play as we move forward is crucial for future adaptation of human/more-than-human relationships; this is the primary goal of my analysis of the environmental imaginations of Moby-Dick.

I argue that the four primary environmental imaginations—the providential, the utilitarian, the Romantic, and the ecological—that have influenced United States culture since European settlement are represented by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick. Further, I argue that Melville’s representation of these imaginations illuminates the core issues at play in human/more-than-human relationships both for his time, and our contemporary moment. Alongside the four environmental imaginations, I trace the role of technology, vulnerability, the numinous, and the commodity in influencing how we relate to nature. My first chapter details Melville’s representation of the four environmental imaginations: I argue that the providential attitude is found in Ahab, that the utilitarian attitude is found in the crew, and that the Romantic and ecological attitudes are found in both Ahab and Ishmael. My second chapter engages with the implications of these environmental imaginations more fully: I examine how the market and desire for the commodity drives the development of whaling technology; the role of extractivism and technology in the domination of nature; and how vulnerability grounds our relationship to nature.

I develop my argument through literary analysis; surveys of technological habits; and a consultation with cultural, historical, and philosophical analysis’. My primary sources are: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Jedidiah Purdy’s After Nature, Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization, Donald Worster’s Nature’s Economy, Judith Butler’s Precarious Life, John Gatta’s Making Nature Sacred, and Davis et. al.’s In Pursuit of Leviathan.



© Copyright 2019 Jensen A. Lillquist