Herman Melville, Bartleby, and the Literature of Wall Street

Instructor: Maeve Adams

Herman Melville is best known for seafaring tales like Moby Dick and Billy Budd. But arguably his most influential publication was “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” the story of a copy-clerk who is hired by a Wall-Street lawyer and then refuses to do his job. The tale of Bartleby’s resistance is the original Wall Street protest, written in the midst of the first high finance boom in New York City. In this immersive Day-of Learning, students will read Melville’s novella alongside several other Melville stories (including brief excerpts from Moby Dick), correspondence, and prose non-fiction as well as short works by his contemporaries. We will study these works in the context of Melville’s world, reading and discussing archival materials that paint a picture of the Wall Street of 19th Century New York City—not so different from ours, in many ways—growing in power and influence on the cusp of the first Gilded Age.

The day of reading and discussion will proceed as follows: over the course of the day, Dr. Maeve Adams of Manhattan College—a literary historian of nineteenth century media and culture—will deliver two lectures on Melville’s world, his work and his lasting influence on the republic of letters that he is, in no small part, responsible for founding. This will inaugurate and frame the work that students do in two types of break-out sessions that take place throughout the day: students will be given time to read course materials and then will participate in guided discussions of those works. The day will conclude with a discussion by a roundtable discussion by experts in the fields of literature, history, and economics. Coffee, lunch, and snacks will be included as part of the class throughout the day, and the final roundtable will be followed by a beer-and-wine reception. All participants will receive a free copy of Billy Budd and Other Stories (which contains “Bartleby, the Scrivener”) courtesy of Penguin Classics at the opening of the day.


  • Maeve Adams
  • Rebecca Ariel Porte

    Rebecca Ariel Porte holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research, which centers on nineteenth- and twentieth-century movements in British and American poetry, concentrates on crossings between early analytic philosophy and modern theories of poetics and aesthetics. Reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and io9, among other publications.

  • Bruce King
  • Raphaële Chappe

    Raphaële Chappe holds a PhD in Economics from The New School for Social Research, an LL.M from New York University School of Law, a Master’s degree in Comparative Business Law from the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne in Paris, France, and an LL.B in Law and French Law from King’s College London. Her research interests include the link between financial markets and wealth inequality; political economy and the history of economic thought; and the philosophical foundations of microeconomics.

  • Ajay Singh Chaudhary

    Ajay Singh Chaudhary is the executive director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and a core faculty member specializing in social and political theory. His research focuses on social and political theory, Frankfurt School critical theory, political economy, media, religion, and post-colonial studies. He has written for the The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books, Quartz, Social Text, Dialectical Anthropology, The Jewish Daily Forward, Filmmaker Magazine, and 3quarksdaily, among other venues. Ajay is currently writing a book on the politics of climate change.

Event Schedule

Sunday, 11am-6pm
January 24, 2016

$150 early bird special until January 3rd, $199 afterwards


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