266 pages, illustrations
In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular – and biblically sanctioned – view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature – and how we know it – was at stake.
Burnett vividly re-creates the trial, during which a parade of experts – pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers – took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages.
List of Figures xi
Chapter One: Introduction 1
The Peace Offering That Stank 1
Maurice v. Judd and the History of Science 5
From Dock to Docket 14
Chapter Two: Common Sense 19
Manhattan and Its Whales 19
Chapter Three: The Philosophical Whale 44
Samuel Latham Mitchill and Natural History in New York City 44
"No More a Fish than a Man" 61
Taxonomy at the Bar 72
Chapter Four: Naturalists in the Crow's Nest 95
What the Whalemen Knew 95
Chapter Five: Men of Affairs 145
The Whale in the Swamp ?145
Chapter Six: The Jury Steps Out 166
The Knickerbockers Slay a Yankee Whale 166
Who Decides Who Decides? 167
Picking Up the Pisces 178
Chapter Seven: Conclusion 190
New Science, New York, New Nation 190
Epilogue:Whales and Fish, Philosophers and Historians, Science and Society 210
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D. Graham Burnett is associate professor of history at Princeton University and an editor at Cabinet magazine. His books include Masters of All They Surveyed and A Trial by Jury.