Pirates and Piracy in the Caribbean

Episode 42 with Mariana-Cecilia Velázquez

In the early modern period (c.1500-1700 CE), “pirates” were seen as outlaws who both circumvented the rules of trade and evaded entrenched political values. By contrast, “corsairs” were sponsored by the state, and although they engaged in similar “outlaw” practices (as pirates), they were seen as protectors of stability on behalf of their sovereign regimes. Yet scholars tend to under-appreciate the linguistic and semantic nuances of the terms “pirate” and “corsair,” which were used interchangeably to set the stage for political, economic, and religious polemics.

Drawing on an interdisciplinary corpus that includes historical accounts, literary texts, legal treatises, and maps, Professor Mariana-Cecilia Velázquez joins the podcast to discuss the visual and narrative representations of the colorful and politically shrewd English Captain Francis Drake (c.1540-1596 CE) who serves as a case study to understand the wide spectrum of the usages of the terms “pirate” and “corsair” as well as the relation between the image of the pirate and larger concepts such as property, sovereignty, and power. The conversation also explores topics related to the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean and specific individuals, such as Miguel Enríquez, who operated at the margins of the Spanish Iberian empire. 

The Episode

The Guest

Mariana-Cecilia Velázquez is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She received her Ph.D. in Latin American and Iberian Cultures from Columbia University in 2018. Her research focuses on late medieval Iberia and the early modern transatlantic relations among Spain, England, Latin America and the Caribbean regions. She specializes in early modern transatlantic piracy through the analysis of an interdisciplinary corpus of primary sources that include travel narratives, colonial cartography poetry, legal documents, historical accounts, among others, from the 1500s to the 1670s.

Suggested Readings

  • Fuchs, Barbara. ThePoetics of Piracy. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2013. 
  • Jowitt, Claire. The Culture of Piracy, 1580-1630: English Literature and Seaborne Crime. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Kelsey, H. Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1998.
  • Lane, Kris. Pillaging the Empire: Global Piracy on the High Seas, 1500-1750. NY: Routledge, 2016. 
  • Martínez-Osorio, Emiro. Authority, Piracy, and Captivity in Colonial Spanish American Writing. Bucknell UP, 2016.
  • Rediker, Marcus. Villains of All Nations. Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. 
  • Ríos Taboada, María Gracia. Disputas de altamar. Sir Francis Drake en la polémica española-inglesa sobre las Indias. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2021.

Music Credits

“Abdelazar: Roundeau” and “The Married Beau: Hornpipe on a Ground”
By: Henry Purcell
Performed by: Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman
Samples from the Boston Public Library CD Collection on archive.org

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