Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds

Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds

Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds

Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds

Synopsis

Drawing on texts written by and about European and Euro-American captives in a variety of languages and genres, Lisa Voigt explores the role of captivity in the production of knowledge, identity, and authority in the early modern imperial world.

The practice of captivity attests to the violence that infused relations between peoples of different faiths and cultures in an age of extraordinary religious divisiveness and imperial ambitions. But as Voigt demonstrates, tales of Christian captives among Muslims, Amerindians, and hostile European nations were not only exploited in order to emphasize cultural oppositions and geopolitical hostilities. Voigt's examination of Spanish, Portuguese, and English texts reveals another early modern discourse about captivity--one that valorized the knowledge and mediating abilities acquired by captives through cross-cultural experience.

Voigt demonstrates how the flexible identities of captives complicate clear-cut national, colonial, and religious distinctions. Using fictional and nonfictional, canonical and little-known works about captivity in Europe, North Africa, and the Americas, Voigt exposes the circulation of texts, discourses, and peoples across cultural borders and in both directions across the Atlantic.

Excerpt

In the early modern period, European publics were captivated by tales of Christians held prisoner by religious and political adversaries. Imperial expansion, spearheaded by Portugal and Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, increased the geographical range in which subjects could fall into enemy hands as well as the forms that narratives of captivity could take. Imperial administrators heard survivors’ oral reports. Pirates and privateers interrogated captured enemy pilots, who, in turn, presented accounts to their own sovereigns upon their release. Inquisition officials evaluated depositions attesting to ransomed captives’ religious integrity. Audiences witnessed theatrical representations of captivity as well as sermons and public processions of ex-captives seeking to raise alms for ransom. Armchair travelers perused “true histories” of shipwreck and captivity published in book as well as pamphlet form. This study explores the role of captivity in the production of knowledge, identity, and authority in the early modern imperial world by examining texts written by and about European and Euro-American captives in a variety of languages and genres.

The practice of captivity, of course, attests to the violence that infused relations between people of different faiths and cultures in an age of extraordinary religious divisiveness and imperial ambitions within and without Europe. Yet far from simply exploiting tales of captivity to emphasize oppositions and hostilities, early modern writers frequently assert the value of the captive’s cross-cultural experience and the expertise derived from it. This book focuses on both the use of the captive’s knowledge and the use of the authority derived from such knowledge, particularly in works describing European exploration and colonization in the Americas. the production and circulation of captivity accounts in new and exotic locales responds, on one hand, to a desire for eyewitness information about cultures and lands where Europeans hoped to extend commercial and territorial dominion. But narrators also emphasize the pleasure that their accounts offer readers by presenting an experience both novel and familiar, in literature and in life. Early modern representations and uses of captivity thus point to epistemological as well as generic transformations that predate and prefigure those associated with what would come to be known as the Scientific Revolution . . .

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