Website Review

Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whale Ship

Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whale Ship brings to life pages of a young girl's journal kept during her three-year journey aboard her father's whaling ship, the Roman. The 42 pages of Laura Jernegan's journal include a catalogue of items, pets, and people aboard the ship as well as reports on everything from Laura's schoolwork to the crew's processing of a whale. Details about family life, work, and play in the largely adult and masculine world of whaling offer glimpses into the complexities of life aboard the ship–the simultaneous sense of adventure and monotony, community and isolation, and certainty and uncertainty that she felt during her journey.

Martha Vineyard's Museum, the site's host, masterfully combines Laura's journal with memoirs of Laura and her mother Helen, boating logs, portraits, and other relevant items to recreate this rich and compelling story. Artifacts and pictures from the Library of Congress, the Nantucket Historical Association, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and others linked throughout the site contextualize and enrich not only Laura Jernegan's story, but the histories of whaling and childhood.

A nautically-themed homepage directs visitors the site's 14 primary links Large images of a whale with a harpoon and lance, a young girl, and an open diary link visitors to The Story of Whaling, Laura's Story, and Explore Laura's Journal, respectively.

Of these, Laura's Story will be the most compelling for scholars of childhood and youth. This section invites visitors aboard the Roman as the Jernegans pursued whales from Edgartown, Massachusetts, to the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Or follow Mrs. Jernegan and her children on their journey home aboard the steamer Ajax and the newly completed transcontinental railroad.

A particularly interesting section features a letter written by Laura to her grandmother highlighting the Jernegan's first five months at sea. In it, Laura shared details of her eight-day visit to Ohitahoo (an island in Polynesia) during which the queen invited the Jernegans to the royal palace for a feast including ten fruits—all of which Laura named.

Peppered throughout Laura's Story are delightful diary excerpts that will entice viewers to Explore Laura's Journal. There visitors can flip the journal's pages, zoom, use a "Magic Lens" to generate typed transcriptions of selected paragraphs, listen as the journal is read aloud, or link to a transcription of the full text. Laura's journal allows viewers to see growth in Laura's penmanship, writing style, and vocabulary. These sections are primarily narrative — neither Laura's Story nor Explore Laura's Journal offer much historical analysis of Laura's life, her journal, or childhood in general, and information found in The Story of Whaling is exclusively about whales and the people who pursued them.

Other icons link to "Interactivities" (interactive learning activities) to more fully understand Laura's story and whaling as a profession. Visitors may explore the pages of Laura's Journal, learn more About Whales, view a Map of Whaling areas, contextualize Laura's life with a Timeline, and Explore the Ship. This section relates primarily to whaling; only Laura's Journal includes information specifically related to children and youth.

Find limited content relating to childhood and youth by clicking on People and tracing the lives of Laura and her brother Prescott from birth to death. Scroll through the Everyday Life subsection under Artifacts to find a school slate with slate pencil, a geography book, and four children's literature books.

More About leads visitors to ten brief essays with bibliographies about the age of whaling, two of which, 19th Century Children's Literature and Schooling in the 19th Century, includes information relevant study of childhood and youth.

Hidden beneath the bottom tier are barely visible links that provide useful information for instructors and researchers. For Teachers links to three unit plans written by experienced educators with lessons that incorporate whaling into classrooms from first grade to high school. Of these, only "Whaling in Four Lessons," which suggests students compare and contrast their lives with Laura's, deals directly with childhood.

Unfortunately, there is no option to search directly for key terms like "children," "boy," or "girl." This significant oversight makes it difficult to find specific words or subjects. Despite this, Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whale Ship is useful for those seeking primary source material on the myriad of subjects with which Laura Jernegan's young life intersected and to students wishing to learn more about the whaling industry and the adventures of a young girl and her family aboard a whaling ship.

How to Cite This Source

"Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whale Ship," in Children and Youth in History, Item #484, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/484 (accessed October 21, 2014).

Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whale Ship brings to life pages of a young girl’s journal kept during her three-year journey aboard her father’s whaling ship, the Roman.