Senior Exhibit Fellow AJ Laird ’24 is tracking whaling vessels into the archive

  • ng rod with a red bag as bait that reads "3 million" Two submerged whales swim toward the boat. A drawing of a seacoast is at far right and a masted ship is at far left.
  • left to right: a tall man with grey hair and glasses and dark blue shirt stands next to young woman with short curly hair, white blouse and green open jacket. To her left is a man her height wearing a green sweater with shirt collar showing at neckline. Both men fold hands in front of them.
    AJ Laird (center) with faculty supporters
July 8, 2023

History major AJ Laird ’24 —this year’s Yale Library Senior Exhibit Fellow—will create and curate a 2024 exhibition tentatively titled “Logbooks and Beyond: Discovering the World of Whaling.”

Laird is presenting a preview of the exhibition on Tues., July 11, from 3 to 4 p.m. in Sterling Library International Room.

The exhibit will draw primarily on the whaling logs in the Manuscripts and Archives collection. “Not merely record books,” Laird said, “these logs tell a tangible, visual story of an ocean-going industry,” an important New England industry that spanned the early 19th to early 20th centuries.

Essential to the ship’s journey, the logbook held vital information about locations at sea, dates, weather conditions, whale captures, and activities aboard ship. Many of these books in the library’s collection—ranging from oversized canvas-bound books to small diary-like volumes—also contain sketches, recipes, nautical calculations, and hand-drawn maps by ships’ captains. Laird will also examine letters, charts, maps, and other seafarers’ materials in the collections to tell the story of whaling life and culture.

Laird, who is from Cordova, Alaska, discovered a passion for the topic during a summer Yale fellowship to conduct research in the archives of Yale, the Mystic Seaport Museum, the New Bedford Museum, and the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Laird also has firsthand experience at sea, having worked as a deckhand on charter sailing vessels in the Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak Island, and Prince William Sound.

The Senior Exhibit Fellowship at Yale Library, introduced in 2021, expanded a previous program that annually gave a selected rising senior the opportunity to curate an exhibition based on the student’s senior essay. Laird is only the second student to receive the summer fellowship, which provides financial support for a research residency on campus. It also provides mentoring support from a library advisor, faculty advisor, and the library’s exhibit production staff.

Laird’s librarian advisor is James Kessenides, Kaplanoff Librarian for American History, department of area studies and humanities research support; Mark Peterson, Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History, department of history, is Laird’s faculty sponsor.

Laird’s Senior Fellowship Exhibit will open in the Exhibition Corridor of Sterling Memorial Library in spring of 2024.

Read more about the 2023 Senior Fellowship Exhibit, The Study of Things: George Kubler in Latin America, now on view in Sterling Library through Oct. 8. Read more about that exhibit’s curator Chucho Martínez Padres and his research and curatorial processes. Learn more about the Senior Exhibit Fellowship at Yale Library.

—Deborah Cannarella

Image: Isaac Cruikshank, The New South Sea fishery, or, A Cheap way to catch whales, 1791, Lewis Walpole Library, Prints and Drawings. AJ Laird (center) with faculty sponsor Mark Peterson (left), Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History, and librarian advisor James Kessenides, Kaplanoff Librarian for American History. Photo by Deborah Cannarella