HIST-LIT 90FV: Piracy, Empire, and Race





Instructor: Patrick Sylvain
Meeting time: Monday, 9:45-11:45 am

This course explores piratical literature across multiple genres, including essays, poems, short stories, and novels. As we move through centuries we consider multiple definitions of piracy—privateering, filibustering, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism—and ask ourselves how these actions have been understood. We also look closely at ships and maritime life as alternative realms where social norms can be reformulated, and categories of gender, sexuality, race, class, and privilege can become fluid. Given the immense popularity of pirate narratives, we consider whether ships serve as laboratories for social change or if they—and the stories about them—function as pressure valves that bolster hierarchies on land. We interrogate contemporary piracy and consider parallels and differences to European piracy and the exotification of their adventures. As we dig for buried treasure, hunt for whales, and visit tropical islands, we turn the lens onto ourselves as well: why is it that we tend to find pirates who murder and pillage so fun?