Edward “Ted” Melillo, associate professor of history and environmental studies, has received a prestigious New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It will allow him to spend 15 months in intensive study of the Hawaiian language (ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. After attaining reading proficiency in Hawaiian, Melillo will begin working with untranslated 19th-century Hawaiian-language newspapers.
The newspapers will help round out a story that has long fascinated Melillo: the myriad historical connections between Nantucket, Mass., and the peoples, cultures and environments in and around the Pacific Ocean. From the 1790s to the late 1840s, Nantucket was the epicenter of North America’s whaling industry. Nantucket-based crews relentlessly hunted Pacific whales for their body parts, which served as raw materials for items such as lamp oil, heating fuel, soap, buggy whips, umbrella ribs and corset stays.
A whaling ship expedition could last three to five years, and shipboard life was rough. Many of New England’s young mariners found they preferred the Pacific islands, and it wasn’t unusual for ships to return home having lost half of their original crews.
To replace the deserters with new recruits, captains called at Hawaiian ports. So it was that hundreds of Hawaiian seafarers made their way to Nantucket and other New England ports. These expatriates wrote frequent letters home, which the Hawaiian newspapers published, along with shipping news and maritime bulletins. Melillo will share these accounts in his third book, Out of the Blue: Nantucket and the Pacific World.
Melillo is one of 13 professors chosen for the New Directions award in 2017. Studying Hawaiian definitely represents a new direction in his scholarship, which most recently has focused on the relationship between insects and people.
When Melillo returns to Amherst in fall 2018, he will teach a new history seminar, “Hawaiʻi: Capital of the Pacific World.” The course will teach students about the interconnected environments, cultures and economic systems of the world’s largest ocean across many centuries.
“The [New Directions] award accelerates the development of my long-term teaching goals, which include working to advance the study of the Pacific World,” says Melillo. He looks forward to introducing his students to newly translated Hawaiian-language sources, which are rarely used in U.S. classrooms. As an active contributor to the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program, Melillo is also “highly motivated” to advise Five College students who are working on senior theses and graduate-level studies of Hawaiʻi’s indigenous communities.
The Mellon Foundation annually invites select colleges and universities to nominate faculty members for the New Directions Fellowship. In 2014, Amherst Professor of French, Laure Katsaros, received the fellowship, which she used to earn a master’s degree in the history and philosophy of design from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. From that experience, Katsaros wrote a forthcoming book, Glass Architectures: Utopian Surveillance from Fourier to the Surrealists.