By Linda Colley
Britain’s pursuit of empire turns out an inexorable march throughout continents towards its ultimate—if temporary-—global hegemony. yet, as Linda Colley exhibits during this masterfully written publication, Britain’s out of the country agencies have been consistently limited by way of its personal boundaries in measurement, inhabitants, and army, and through divisions between its subjects-—constraints and deficiencies that may make the dream of empire a tribulation even for its makers. Drawing on a wealth of captivity narratives by way of women and men of alternative social and ethnic backgrounds from the early 17th century to the Victorian period, Colley chronicles the complex dynamic among invader and invaded.
Here are the tales of Sarah colour, who used to be married to a succession of British army officials, attacked by means of tigers, and imprisoned by way of Indian ruler Tipu Sultan; Joseph Pitts, a white slave in Algiers from 1678 to 1693 and writer of the 1st authentic—and very complimentary—English account of the pilgrimage to Mecca; and Florentia Sale, a captive within the Kabul revolt of 1841 who used her time in confinement as a chance to interview army males for her memoir. there have been additionally those that crossed the cultural divide and switched identities, just like the Irishman George Thomas, a mercenary fighter for Indian rulers and failed dictator, and people who crossed yet made it again, like John Rutherfurd, the onetime Chippewa warrior and Scot.
Colley makes use of those impressive stories to track the altering limitations of Britan’s pursuit of empire and its moving attitudes towards Islam, slavery, race, and American revolutionaries.
Hailed via The monetary Times as a “White tooth model of imperial history,” Captives is without delay an
original chronicle and a prescient meditation at the which means of empire.
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Extra info for Captives: The story of Britain's pursuit of empire and how its soldiers and civilians were held captive by the dream of global supremacy
It means employing guns, technology, trade and the Bible to devastating effect, imposing rule, and subordinating those of a different skin pigmentation or religion. ’ Yet if Crusoe seems at one level the archetypal conqueror and coloniser, he is also representative of British imperial experience in a very different sense. Before his shipwreck, Crusoe is captured at sea by Barbary corsairs and becomes ‘a miserable slave’ in Morocco. He escapes his Muslim owners only to become ‘a prisoner locked up with the eternal bars and bolts of the Ocean, in an uninhabited wilderness’.
10 Even at the height of its imperial power, Britain’s military and naval resources would have appeared negligible if set against the bristling overseas garrisons and staggering oceanic naval presence currently possessed by the United States. These limits in military manpower might not have mattered had Britain commanded throughout the sort of easy and invariable technological supremacy still sometimes attributed to early modern Western empires, but it did not. At sea, to be sure, the major European powers had established a marked lead over other regions of the world by 1600 (though for a long time their wooden ships remained vulnerable on long voyages, and instruments of navigation were crude and sometimes fallible).
The sources I am mining are pre-eminently – though never exclusively – these captives’ own extraordinarily rich and virtually unexplored writings and drawings. And my intention throughout is to supply a work both of individual recovery and of imperial revision. As Defoe and Swift recognised, captivity was an integral part of Britain’s overseas experience which cannot be properly understood or assessed without it. Nor is it possible to understand this empire’s impact on the various non-European peoples it collided and colluded with, unless the full meanings of captivity are uncovered and explored.