New Bedford’s collection of whaling logbooks represents a unique resource for information concerning life on the high seas, biodiversity, and geopolitics between the 17th and 20th centuries. Our pilot project focuses on the 1863 wreck of the Viking, an American whaler carrying Chinese immigrants, on the Japanese island of Mikurajima. Coming only a few years after Perry’s hostile and untested “opening” of Japan, the lives of the sailors and passengers hung in the balance between the former Tokugawa policy of isolation which demanded their execution, and a new policy of detente.
Damaged logbooks and records, including the first modern English-Japanese dictionary, detail the dramatic effort by the local Japanese village secretary, Ichiro Kurimoto, to convince village elders to spare the sailors lives. Their clemency and foresight marked what former US Ambassador to Japan Dr. Edwin Reischauer deemed a watershed in early US-Japanese relations, and forged a friendship between Mikurajima and New Bedford that endures today.
Having imaged and recovered the Viking logbook, the Lazarus team will photograph and asssemble a digital archive of all the documents relating to the history of this signal event. from not only the American and Japanese perspectives, but that of the Chinese immigrants. Phase two will involve high school students from both New Bedford and Mikurajima in the production of a young adult history of the Viking shipwreck, working alongside university undergraduates, and directed by a Michael Dyer, curator of the the New Bedford collection, and a team of historians.
Blog Post from the New Bedford Whaling Museum about the project: