Narratives

European Slaves:
Christians in African
Pirate Encounters


News: 

Newspaper Article
"Wie ein Tiroler Bauer von Piraten versklavt wurde", Tiroler Tageszeitung Magazin, July 15 2018.

Newspaper Article
"Menschenhandel im Mittelmeerraum", Die Presse, June 9 2018.

Lecture
Robert Spindler (Innsbruck), "Renegados: Converted Christians in British Barbary Captivity Narratives." at the International Symposium Buccaneers, Corsairs, Pirates and Privateers: Connecting the Early Modern Seas at the Bielefeld University, 13.04.2018.

Lecture
Robert Spindler (Innsbruck), "Three Early Modern Barbary Captivity Narratives in the German Language and their Portrayal of Islam" for the Mediterranean Collaborative, Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World at the University of Minnesota, 08.11.2017.

Lecture
Robert Spindler (Innsbruck), "Masters, Agusins and Renegados: Portrayals of Muslims in Early Modern Barbary Captivity Narratives from Germany and Austria" for the SAGES Program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, 04.11.2017.

Newspaper article
"Auf zum Entern!", Der Standard.

Lecture
Robert Spindler (Innsbruck), "Merckwürdige Lebens- und Reisebeschreibung: Der Bericht des Johann Michael Kühn" at the workshop "Erzählen zwischen Fakt und Fiktion" in Innsbruck, 23.02.2017.

Article
German article about our conference on "Piracy and Captivity in the Mediterranean: 1530-1810" in Innsbruck.

Newspaper article
"Als christlicher Gefangener unter Piraten", Der Standard.


Contact us:

Mario Klarer
Project Leader

Phone:
+43 (0)512 507 4172

Fax:
+43 (0)512 507 2879

E-mail:
mario.klarer@uibk.ac.at

Mail:
Institut für Amerikastudien
Universität Innsbruck
Innrain 52
6020 Innsbruck
AUSTRIA

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Narratives

Almost all Muslim and Christian regions or towns that were to some degree involved in Mediterranean trade in the early modern era had to cope with the problem of piracy, with corsairs capturing not only trading goods, but also enslaving members of their communities. On the European side, several hundred thousand Christians are believed to have been enslaved between 1530 and 1800 by pirates from Morocco and the Barbary or Berber Coast, the North African Mediterranean sea border with territories of what is now Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Large sums of money had to be mobilized in order to return citizens safely to their native towns. Exact numbers of Muslim slaves in Europe are very difficult to determine, mainly because unlike a many former Christian slaves, not a lot of Muslims wrote about their time in captivity.

Many of the European victims of Mediterranean pirates who survived their enslavement later gave or published accounts of their experiences. These narratives form an independent, but in literary studies widely neglected, genre that fulfilled a specific humanitarian as well as political agenda: By describing the hardships, often including gruesome torture and abuse, the survivors painted a picture of terror inflicted on them by the enemy while at the same time depicting stereotypical Otherness that intended to generate hatred towards the captors and compassion for the victims. On a personal level, these narratives conditioned the sympathetic reader to financially contribute to the ransom efforts of groups or individuals to free hostages. On a communal level, these accounts indirectly asked for far-reaching political or military measures to be taken up by communities or states in order to contain and limit the pirates’ activities. In addition to the obvious utilitarian or altruistic motives, these escape narratives also catered to the sensational lust of a readership not yet accustomed to, but definitely ready for the narrative realism the emerging genre of the novel was soon to provide.

The survivor narratives provided the only, albeit distorted, widely accessible source of knowledge about Islam in Northern Africa in the early modern age. The memoirs are one of the most comprehensive precursors to what Edward Said would identify as Orientalist discourses, all of which stylize the Orient as the West’s cultural Other.

So far we have collected a corpus of approximately 130 Barbary Coast captivity narratives in German, English, French, Spanish, Danish, and Dutch. These narratives form the basis of the editorial and interpretative research of our three-year Austrian Science Fund project.