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Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850 [Paperback]

Linda Colley
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 2003
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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Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850 + Acts of Union and Disunion + Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837
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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (4 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712665285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712665285
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 353,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Linda Colley's Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850 looks at the history of British imperialism from an entirely novel perspective. Instead of concentrating on the familiar tales of those who got away with empire--emigrants, fortune-hunters, generals, missionaries and statesmen--she focuses on the narratives of those British men, women and children who were captured.

Colley points out that whether in the Islamic Mediterranean, tribal North America, or the Mughal states of India, the British overseas were always vulnerable to the mighty powers of other European and non-European empires. Many were taken prisoner, some sold into slavery and not a few literally went native--taking on the language, costume and religion of their captors.

Colley, author of the widely-read and hugely influential Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, has discovered and recounts some hundred or so of these stories, many of them accompanied by sketches and illustrations. She uses this fascinating material not only to highlight the adaptive and cross-cultural manner in which the British interacted with other empires and peoples, but also to reflect on how, when and why the British were able to transcend their small island status and become an enduring global power.

Beautifully written and handsomely produced, Captives should be read with care. It is a most profound, original and erudite study of the British empire, with implications for how we think about race relations, Islam and the West, and the global reach of modern day America. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Captives is a major work: a complete reappraisal of a period, strikingly original in both theme and form, mixing narrative and fine descriptive prose with analysis in an entirely fresh and gripping way...It will undoubtedly confirm Colley's reputation not only as one of the most exciting historians of her generation, but also one of the most interesting writers of non-fiction around.' William Dalrymple, Guardian

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This is an important work reassessing the empire-building of Britain, the identities of ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ as well as the process of ‘othering’ and the concept of 'Orientalism'. Linda Colley does this by looking at various captives. These ‘captives’ come in many guises - the people treated in this book are mainly Britons (used here as a shorthand to avoid the perennial problem of English/British) captured in various parts of the world; the first part of the book looks at those who were captured in the Mediterranean area by the Barbary corsairs based in North Africa; the second analyses the captives in North America taken by the native Americans, the Revolutionary Americans and other European powers (mainly France); and third points to India. Colley deals with ‘captives in uniform’, British soldiers stationed abroad towards the end of her book.
These three theatres of captive narratives shadow the outline of the emergence of the British Empire. Very many people from the Atlantic Isles were captured by various non-Europeans and hence were in a position of vulnerability. There was never and could not be a binary difference between the superior, colonising and aggressive imperialists on one hand and the inferior, battered and subjugated ‘other’ on the other. One practical problem limited England/Britain – its population, or lack of it. Until the Malthusian idea became popular, and even after it, the British Empire simply did not have enough manpower to maintain dominance without assistance or at least acquiescence of the (subjugated) non-Europeans. The possibility that Britons could become captives of non-Europeans, different in religion and race, remained all the time.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Airbrushed from history . . . " 25 Aug 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Once, i hoped for a truly comprehensive survey of the British Empire and its global impact. This excellent book is almost the response i wished for. Colley examines "a quarter of a millennium" in an overview of three stages of Britain's expansionist adventure. From the start, she reminds us, Britain's miniscule population and limited resources made it an unlikely candidate for global expansion. Contending with nations better prepared or more experienced in empire-building, the founding of the British Empire was typified by false starts and unlikely events. In using the accounts of prisoners - kidnappees, prisoners of war or other captives, Colley is able to point out how both public views and policies changed during the growth of the Empire. Most important, she argues, is the need to dispel notions that the empire was monolithic in concept or development.
Clearly organised and written with clarity and intensity, Colley opens her study with an example of glaring failure. How many remember Britain's occupation of Tangier on the west coast of Africa? The city was part of a queen's dowry in 1661, giving Britain a control point over the Mediterranean trade routes [Gibraltar came under British power in 1701]. With Spain, France and Italy, not to mention the Dutch, all expanding their sea-going commerce, Tangier was a key location. The British poured immense sums into Tangier to create a fortified city, but it was lost less than a generation later. Colley explains how relations with the "Barbary" states of North Africa drove British foreign policy for many years. Those relations included ongoing efforts to redeem captives taken by corsairs, swift vessels that even raided coastal areas of the British Isles.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant insight from another angle 4 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well written account of a momentous period - but from (to me, anyway,) a new viewpoint - that of the captives. Highly recommended.
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