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I began my career at sea in the U.S. Coast Guard. After completing my tour, I sailed as A.B. Seaman in tankers, container ships, breakbulk vessels, and offshore tugboats. I served with the San Francisco Bar Pilots from 1991-2000, where I became captain of the offshore pilot vessel California.

As a student at Berkeley and Cornell my research in British Romantic Literature and Critical Theory was generously supported by fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Society for the Humanities at Cornell and the National Endowment for the Humanities. My colleagues among the faculty of Cal Maritime awarded me the Distinguished Teaching Award for 2014-15, and an "Educational Experience Enhancement" award with course release for providing outstanding service to students.

My current research explores the dense social and material infrastructure of marine transportation since the mid-eighteenth century and the changing ideal of "autonomy," "self-sufficiency," that tradition — and literature— celebrates as a central trope of maritime culture. I am interested in how autonomy has come to mean something different by the 21st century.

During the Romantic period (for me, roughly 1780-1815) poets explored the possibilities of autonomous subjectivity and the individual creative spirit but were vexed by their own culpability and interpenetration by Britain's oceanic empire. The formal similarity between an actual sea voyage with its hopeful beginning, contested middle and sometimes-successful conclusion and a romance, or adventure plot, has led to seafaring's identification with heroic narratives of individual struggle and national glory. However, in late capitalist modernity, the ship-as-state metaphor has been shaken—as an image of connectivity and distributed agency has largely replaced the heroic individualism of the sailor's or vessel's autonomous struggle for mastery over the elements. The change in the meaning of autonomy is evocative of the way that regulation and capitalist consolidation through the latest period of globalization has transformed ocean commerce. Now, when people talk about "autonomy" in maritime infrastructure they are usually talking about ships that have remote operators, or no human operators at all, and existing fully-crewed vessels are 24/7 monitored, networked, managed by people and systems ashore (if they're not "in the cloud").  Maybe paradoxically, at the individual level, to the seaman, maritime practice is experienced in many ways as it has always been — the sea is materially the same — but the cultural significance of seafaring is not. From the Romantics to Conrad, where Lord Jim marks the end of the heroic sea tale (as many have noticed), to Lowry's Ultramarine — a narrative that illustrates the disorientation between traditional and modernist culture and whose protagonist appears markedly anti-heroic, or failed-heroic, to Francisco Goldman's Ordinary Seaman, a post-modern sea tale about a ship that never leaves port, and trafficked Central American seamen who remain stuck in an extra-legal limbo in the US. I am interested in the development of the heroic personification of the sea and seafarers from being intrinsic to Empire/Nation to a throwaway laborer ("Human Element") treated as a problem to be solved by elimination.

My upper division literature and culture classes (Literature of the Sea; Globalization of Culture; Maritime Culture) are informed by these and related questions, and I encourage my students to become colleagues and join me in pursuing these issues in shared research projects. My lower-division courses (Intro to Literature; English Composition) are designed to help students get "up to speed" and build the skills necessary to advance their own academic and professional careers at Cal Maritime and beyond.

I am currently Executive Secretary of the Melville Society, and Committee Member and Chairman of the West Coast US Nautical Institute branch, as well as Faculty Advisor to the Cal Maritime NI Club, NI@CMA. 

I hold a license as Master, Steam or Motor Vessels of 200 tons (US) and Mate 1600 tons (US) and I'm a full book member of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific.

I'm always happy to answer questions about my courses or my work, or our programs at Cal Maritime. Please see contact information at right, or drop by my office.

My Curriculum Vitae is HERE (link opens in new window)


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Colin Dewey

Office: FAC-215



Paths That Shine: Nantucket and the Essex, with Nathaniel Philbrick, Tristram Coffin Dammin, Colin Dewey, Peggy Goodwin. Directed by Ben Cortes, Director of Photography Derek Knowles. Courtyard Films, 2015.

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