The word conjures up skullduggery, black eye patches, and the odor of rum. But history shows that pirates often were skilled mariners and erudite explorers who helped redraw the world map of civilization.
“Pirates in Print: Seafaring Treasures of the Mandeville Special Collections Library” will showcase first editions of seminal books about the Golden Age of Piracy. The Geisel Library exhibition will run October 1 through February 3, and it will draw from the 2,000-plus works in the Library’s Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages. Considered the world’s most extensive collection of books on early voyages of exploration and discovery to the Pacific, the collection was donated to the UC San Diego Library in 1974 by Kenneth E. and Dorothy V. Hill.
“Pirates in Print” has been curated by Mark Hanna, a UC San Diego assistant professor of History who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2006 and completed his dissertation on “The Pirate Nests: The Impact of Piracy on Newport and Charles Town, 1670-1730.” Hanna teaches a class titled “The Golden Age of Privacy” which traces the role of sea navigators in transforming global politics and commerce.
“It is much more logical to discuss individuals who committed acts of piracy than to try to describe ‘pirates,’” said Hanna. “For the vast majority of these men and women, piracy was only one or a few acts committed over more complex and varied careers at sea.”
The Hill Collection holds first editions of every significant work on piracy from the 17th and 18th centuries. These include Alexandre Exquemelin’s 1684 Bucaniers of America, William Dampier’s 1698 A New Voyage Around the World, and Captain Charles Johnson’s 1724 A General History of Pyrates, the collection’s most important holding about pirates and Hanna’s personal favorite.
“The mysterious author of this book compiled original newspaper reports, trial records, letters, and criminal interviews, and he blended them with pure fiction to create some of the most compelling characters in early modern history,” said Hanna. “The book describes Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Captain Kidd, and two female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. It has left an indelible mark on the image of piracy in modern popular culture.”
Many of the exhibition’s published texts were written by mariners who dabbled in piracy. “Lionel Wafer and William Dampier committed acts of piracy against the Spanish in Panama and in the Southern Pacific,” Hanna said. “When they returned to London, they printed journals of their travels that were major advances in natural science and medicine, and what we today would call anthropology. Their publications were supported by the Royal Society in London.”