A Forum for Discussions among Voyagers and Others related to the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan
From: Jason Smith
Date: 2014 Jul 7, 11:34 -0700
I've been following this thread with much interest as my project examines the ways in which the Morgan has been commemorated, exhibited, restored, and now sailed again and what that might have to do not only with remembering the American maritime past, but with contemporary issues of economics, politics, and culture. I hope that some of you don't mind me using some of the content in this email thread in an article manuscript I am working on for publication in an academic journal. Of course, I would contact you at the appropriate time if I quote your words to be sure that you and your ideas are not misrepresented.
The question of the Morgan's materiality and, indeed, its originality is fascinating. On the one hand, as Michelle has said, objects like the Morgan are constituitive of the meanings we give and have given to them. On the other, why is the question of original material so often asked? Why should we care if it is 10% original, or 40% original? Some people certainly do. Is there some threshold after which the vessel is not real, or genuine, or authentic? If I am treading a deck, the planking of which was laid in the 1980s, am I still walking the same deck as an ancestor who was a member of the crew 150 years ago? Does it matter? Does it affect the sort of transcendent historical experience that many people seek when visiting a battlefield, ship, house, etc? People will place particular (and peculiar?) weight on the originality of the keel as that is the backbone, and perhaps the soul, of the ship. Of course, the irony is that visitors can't see or touch this original fabric. According to this reasoning, the Morgan's keel has survived and, therefore, so has the 1841 ship itself. If, some day, every piece of wood in the Morgan is replaced and not original 1841 material, or even original to refits during the vessel's active service life, is it still the Morgan, or is it something else? A replica? On the other hand, as Matthew Stackpole has said and others have referred to, if a wooden ship is meant to be infinitely renewable, then there is a sort of natural continuity about the the "realness" of this vessel no matter the age of the material elements that constitute it. These are questions that I am trying to get at in my article, not, of course, to answer for myself, but to get a sense of why this materiality is so important to people or not.
Perhaps more voyagers might weigh in on this. And would anyone recommend secondary works on these questions, perhaps from museum studies or elsewhere as I am not trained as a public historian. I see that Mary Malloy's book has been suggested and will get my hands on it. Any others?