The golden age of piracy

Ep 37: The Golden Age of Piracy

Pirates have been around, for a very long time. As far as the historical record seems to show, they have been around for as long as there have been property and boats.

What is it that attracts us to pirates and why have we got such a well-developed set of pirate tropes? We all have the same picture when we think of pirates: peg legs and eyepatches, parrots and pirate accents, walking the plank, buried treasure, the jolly roger.

Prof Manushag Powell joins me to discuss the Golden Age of Piracy, pirate literature, and the history behind the pirates of popular culture.


Manushag (Nush) Powell joined the Purdue University English department in the fall of 2007, coming from a visiting assistant professor position at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA.  She earned her Ph.D. (2006) and MA (2003) in English from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her BA in English from Yale University in 1999. Her first book, Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals, was published in 2012 as part of the Transits: Literature, Thought, & Culture 1650-1850 series at Bucknell University Press and released in paperback in 2014.  Her second book, written with Frederick Burwick, is British Pirates in Print and Performance (Palgrave, 2015).  She is currently at work with Jennie Batchelor on an unprecedented collection of essays on women’s periodicals in the eighteenth century (Edinburgh, 2018), and on a Broadview Press edition of Captain Singleton, by Daniel Defoe (see below)

For more on everything we talked about today you can read British Pirates in Print and Performance

“Fictional or real, pirates haunted the imagination of the 18th and 19th century-British public during this great period of maritime commerce, exploration, and naval conflict. British Pirates in Print and Performance explores representations of pirates through dozens of stage performances”

She has also just published an edition of Defoe’s Captain Singleton. One for all pirate fans.

“Following the success of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe wrote a new fiction, the story of an English pirate whose success eclipsed every buccaneer the Atlantic world had seen. Featuring a haunted, unreliable narrator, a daring trek across the continent of Africa, and mercantile adventures in the China Seas, Captain Singleton is a tale of loneliness, brotherhood, and the lust for profit”

You can read her full bio here

Jolly Roger (Golden Age of Piracy)

Works Mentioned & Referenced

Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island

J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan

“Captain Charles Johnson”: A General History of Pirates

John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay: Polly

For more popular culture history try this episode on dinosaurs

For more tales of the high seas, this episode is all about Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe was often thought to have have written the General History of Pirates

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Full transcripts will be available shortly

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