History 2129/EnvS 2449 Reading Guide

Shipbuilding and seafaring communities

  • Erminie S. Reynolds and Kenneth R. Martin, Ch.4, “Launched in Gallant Style”; Ch.5 “Business is at a Perfect Standstill,” in “A Singleness of Purpose": The Skolfields and their Ships Ships, (1987), 39-86. (e-reserve)
  • Lisa Norling, “Ahab’s Wife: Women and the American Whaling Industry, 1820-1870,” in Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling, Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920 (1996), 70-91, fn.246-253. (e-reserve)


  • As the title of their book indicates, Reynolds and Martin offer an account of shipbuilding and shipping that focuses closely on an extended family in Harpswell and Brunswick.  What are the benefits of that perspective, and what are the limitations?  What do they argue about “Master” George Skolfield, his shipyard, and his shipping “enterprise”?  How much of his success was calculation and how much was good fortune?
  • To what extent do they locate his shipyard within the larger shipbuilding community in Brunswick, Harpswell, and Bath?
  • How do they analyze and interpret the evidence that they present?  What comparative evidence do they present to support some of the causal connections that they draw?
  • What were the costs and benefits of their shipping strategy for the various people involved (owners-investors, ship captains and officers, sailors)?
  • As you read Lisa Norling’s article, “Ahab’s Wife,” consider it in the context of Nancy Payne Alexander’s article on women and the netting industry.