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Oil Culture$
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Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816689682

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816689682.001.0001

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Whale Oil Culture, Consumerism, and Modern Conservation

Whale Oil Culture, Consumerism, and Modern Conservation

(p.3) 1 Whale Oil Culture, Consumerism, and Modern Conservation
Oil Culture

Heidi Scott

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter explores how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century representations of oil helped to establish the conditions necessary for the rise of a dynamic oil economy. Focusing on promotional accounts of the lighting commodity that held sway before petroleum, it shows how mid-nineteenth-century imaginings of whale oil established a set of cultural frameworks that profoundly influenced the way late-century marketers and consumers understood petroleum. It also considers the emotions and ethics of whale oil culture that foreshadow the more dominant and ubiquitous culture of petroleum and its counterculture of environmentalism today. On the side of exuberance, the marketing of whale and petroleum products has capitalized on the adventure, risk, and acquisitiveness inherent in the American psyche. On the side of catastrophe, a continuum emerges between the ethical arguments against whaling and those against oil drilling based on the desecration of the source: the whale’s body and the drilling landscape. This chapter highlights the symbolic and economic commonalities between whale oil culture and petroleum culture.

Keywords:   oil economy, petroleum, whale oil, oil culture, environmentalism, marketing, petroleum products, whaling, oil drilling

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