Wadewitz Faculty Lecture

Sara Levering, Sports editor

Associate Professor of History gave a faculty lecture entitled “Whale of a Story: Sex, Lies, and Testimony in the Nineteenth-Century Pacific World”.

Lissa Wadewitz sparked her interest due to the Northwest being connected to Pacific world critiques, since there are many languages and it’s a large category to cover. In particular, she highlighted the commodities that connect the Pacific world.

Her research focused predominantly on an 1860 court case on a Captain possibly sexually abusing crew members, which were predominantly male. These men were at sea for months, with little privacy and were mostly teenagers.

Her quest has been to ponder limits in finding alternate truths with the historical evidence provided in the fall, summer, and winter of 1860.

She began with mentioning the different interpretations and she herself was not sure which interpretation to believe, since all three she presented are plausible in some manner or another.

Her first was “the captain is guilty,” since there was a trial in Hawaii and there were numerous testimonies pointing toward his guilt. There were suspicions to take action and it was an “unnatural and unchristian act” that the captain had committed, said Wadewitz.

In a second interpretation, “the captain was framed,” due to “fabrication” and “conspiracy.” There were several reasons for framing him. There were also hints of mutiny, which was a serious crime.

Perhaps, the crew members planned to attack and pin it on the captain, which meant there was plenty of motive to take the captain down.

To discredit this interpretation, Wadewitz suggested that there was not an abundant amount of evidence. Furthermore, in the crew members efforts to embarrass the captain was not extremely effective.

There were only “more questions, than answers,” Wadewitz said, on the second interpretation.

The third was inherently complicated and based largely on the history of Hawaii. Nonetheless, “the captain as tool,” as in a tool to be used for political reasons.

The captain ended up shaking off the behavior and the crew knew of the behavior and did nothing for months.

“I like that there are other ways of presenting and I’d like to do something like this for my senior thesis,” said Anne Ferguson, ‘19.

Wadewitz concluded by saying that each interpretation is plausible and this has only led to more questions. It presents a unique window of the Pacific world, since abuse like this had never been reported before.

“It was a cool story and provided insight on interpreting primary sources,” Sam Beyer, ‘18.