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Captives: The Story of Britain's Pursuit of Empire and How Its Soldiers and Civilians Were Held Captive by the Dream of Global Sby Linda Colley
Synopses & Reviews
Britain’s pursuit of empire seems an inexorable march across continents toward its ultimate—if temporary-—global hegemony. But, as Linda Colley shows in this masterfully written book, Britain’s overseas enterprises were always constrained by its own limitations in size, population, and armed forces, and by divisions among its subjects-—constraints and deficiencies that could make the dream of empire an ordeal even for its makers. Drawing on a wealth of captivity narratives by men and women of different social and ethnic backgrounds from the early seventeenth century to the Victorian era, Colley chronicles the complicated dynamic between invader and invaded.
Here are the stories of Sarah Shade, who was married to a succession of British military officers, attacked by tigers, and imprisoned by Indian ruler Tipu Sultan; Joseph Pitts, a white slave in Algiers from 1678 to 1693 and author of the first authentic—and very complimentary—English account of the pilgrimage to Mecca; and Florentia Sale, a captive in the Kabul insurrection of 1841 who used her time in confinement as an opportunity to interview military men for her memoir. There were also those who crossed the cultural divide and switched identities, like the Irishman George Thomas, a mercenary fighter for Indian rulers and failed dictator, and those who crossed but made it back, like John Rutherfurd, the onetime Chippewa warrior and Scot.
Colley uses these extraordinary tales to trace the changing boundaries of Britan’s pursuit of empire and its shifting attitudes toward Islam, slavery, race, and American revolutionaries.
Hailed by The Financial Times as a “White Teeth version of imperial history,” Captives is at once an
original chronicle and a prescient meditation on the meaning of empire.
In this galvanizing reexamination of the history of the British empire, Colley chronicles the complicated dynamic between invader and invaded from the perspective of the British men and women who were held captive by those they set out to conquer. Illustrations & maps throughout.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 381-424) and index.
Historically, Britain's pursuit of empire has often appeared inexorable, and its ultimate — if temporary — global hegemony unwavering. But, as Linda Colley shows in this vivid and powerful study, Britain's overseas enterprises were always constrained by its own limitations in size, population, and armed forces, and by divisions among its subjects — constraints and deficiencies that could make the dream of empire an ordeal even for its makers.
Drawing on a wealth of captivity narratives by men and women of different social and ethnic backgrounds in North Africa, North America, India, and Afghanistan from the early seventeenth century to the Victorian era, Colley chronicles the complicated dynamic between invader and invaded. With a brilliant grasp of fact and narrative and acute insight, she demonstrates how the bodies of men and women taken in successive captivity crises marked out over time the changing boundaries of Britain's pursuit of empire, the frontiers of its own fears and failings, the resistance of its opponents, and the quality of cross-cultural conflicts and collusions. Here is a starkly original history — a portrait of the underbelly of the British empire and a meditation on the meanings of empire today.
About the Author
Linda Colley has taught at Cambridge and Yale and is currently Leverhulme Research Professor at the London School of Economics. In 2003, she will become Shelby M. C. Davis Professor of History at Princeton University. Her most recent book, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, won the Wolfson Prize.
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