Ranging over a quarter of a millennium and four continents, Captives uncovers the experiences and writings of those tens of thousands of men and women who took part in Britain's rise to imperial pre-eminence, but who got caught and caught out. Here are the stories of Sarah Shade, a camp follower imprisoned alongside defeated British legions in Southern India; of Joseph Pitts, white slave and pilgrim to Mecca; of Florentia Sale, captive and diarist in Afghanistan; of those individuals who crossed the cultural divide and switched identities, like the Irishman George Thomas; and of others who made it back, like the onetime Chippewa warrior and Scot, John Rutherford. Linda Colley uses these tales of ordinary individuals trapped in extraordinary encounters to re-evaluate the character and diversity of the British Empire. She explores what they reveal about British responses to, relations with, and frequent dependence upon different non-European peoples. She shows how British attitudes to Islam, slavery, race, and American Revolutionaries look different once the captive's perspective is admitted.
And she demonstrates how these individual captivities illuminate the limits of Britain's global power over time - as well as its extent. Richly illustrated and evocatively written, Captives is both a magnificent and compelling work of history, and a powerful and original reappraisal of the significance and survivals of empire now.
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(198mm x 129mm x 32mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
A book about imprisonment under the British Empire - the automatic assumption would be that the subject is native people jailed by the harsh conquerors. But unsurprisingly a large number of natives rather objected to being taken over by the British during the expansion of the Empire, and this book records the successes they had in capturing a proportion of enthusiastic empire-builders in their turn. The book concentrates on these captives' stories, drawn from over 100 printed and manuscript narratives written or dictated between 1600 and the mid-19th century by British prisoners in the Mediterranean and North African region, in North America and in South and Central Asia. Some of the personal stories are vivid and moving - that of Midshipman Robert Drury, for instance, shipwrecked on the coast of Madagascar when he was 16 and held there for 15 years as a slave by the local Antandroy people: his book about his captivity became a bestseller, rivalling Robinson Crusoe. But though the individual stories are often fascinating, it is perhaps the overall impression of empire-building, its advantages and disadvantages, that comes through most clearly. The strain placed on the armed forces, for example - neither the army nor navy ever had the strength properly to police the relatively enormous tracts of country which Britain acquired - despite the official view that 'one Englishman is equal to two foreigners'. Altogether, the overall story of Empire combines with personal stories in a fascinating and revealing tapestry. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Linda Colley
Linda Colley was born in Britain in 1949. She has taught at Cambridge, Yale University and the London School of Economics. She is currently Shelby M. C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University. Colley was awarded the CBE in the 2009 New Year Honours. Her previous books include In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714-1760 and Namier.