<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>Captives and the British Empire</title><meta name="keywords" content="imperialism,britain,empire,africa,algiers,america,barbary,British,captives,captivity,captors,colley,colonialism,empires,gender,identity,India,morocco,narratives,North,ottoman,race,relations,slaves,southern,tunis,victorian,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">Captives and the British Empire</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><p><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction</strong></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "> In this interview, Linda Colley talks about her current research on British and Irish men and women who were taken captive in three zones of imperial conquest: the North African coast, North America and southern India. The interview looks at European expansion into the colonies, and explores the clash of cultures and issues of colonial identity.</span></p> <p> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Your recent work has moved away from the domestic history of Britain and ideas of British identity, to move towards a broader concept of the British Empire and British nationals who were taken as captives abroad. What do you think that type of understanding can add to a historical explanation of the British Empire?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Linda Colley:</B> I chose this topic for various reasons, and I think it can throw light on attitudes to empire in various ways. First of all, I'd like people to have a better understanding that you can only approach Britain and its empire in the context of other nations' empires. Because one of the problems is that people tend to think, "Oh, empire. Well, it's mainly the British Empire or perhaps other European empires." They forget that empire was extremely pervasive in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and that different Western and non-Western empires impacted on each other.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Some of the captives I'm looking at are British and Irish people, taken captive by the forces of the Ottoman Empire, which in the seventeenth century and for part of the eighteenth century was more powerful than the British Empire, sprawling over parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and North Africa. I really wanted to add an element of context, and that was part of it.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I also wanted to get people to think more carefully about chronology. We tend to have a rather frozen view of the empire, we think of the Victorian Empire, Pax Britannica, when it really was very big, very powerful. But Britain begins to colonise really from 1600 onwards. And it goes through lots of ups and downs, areas of strength, areas of weakness; it loses territory, it wins ground.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A lot of my captivity crises take place during periods of weakness, in areas of stress. So I wanted people to have a more subtle view of this phenomenon, not just this very static view of red on the map, which is an emblem, a symbol, a piece of propaganda, which doesn't necessarily tell us very much about layers of power.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">But the third reason I wanted to take this approach was to look at empire through the viewpoints of individuals, average men and women who were caught up in it--to look, as scholars like Edward Said suggests we should do--for those at the receiving end of the Western empire, at the masses, at the subaltern classes, as they're called.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I wanted to do that for the imperial powers themselves, to look at ordinary Brits who are involved in empire as merchant seamen, as soldiers, as settlers, as missionaries, as minor tradesmen--very much low-level people, the great mass of imperial personnel, who are in fact incredibly vulnerable, vulnerable to capture, vulnerable to death. Empires are often interpreted only from the top down. I wanted to look at the experience of empire from the bottom, from the viewpoint of some of the people at grassroots level.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> How many people were made captive? Where did they come from and where did they go?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> We're talking about hundreds and thousands of captives, different numbers in different areas. In the case of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish men and women who were taken captive, and in many cases enslaved in the North African states--places like Morocco, Tunis, Algiers--we're probably talking about 20,000 in that region, between 1600 and 1800. When one looks at the number of English and Scottish and Irish settlers in North America, taken captive by the Native Americans, from the seventeenth, eighteenth into the nineteenth century, it probably comes to over 100,000.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There are, of course, captives all over the world. I wouldn't in any way want to suggest that the taking of captives is a one-way process. It isn't. Captive taking is a common tactic of warfare and cross-cultural collision. For my book, since I can't write on all captives, I'm just focusing on those coming from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. And the numbers are surprising. But, like these rather shadowy parts of empire, they've been airbrushed out of the story, because they don't fit some of our conventional fictions and images of what empire was about.</span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><A HREF="1554_502.ram" TARGET="_blank"></A></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Are you taking a rather uncomfortable position for British people, asking them to analyse the places where the cracks appeared in the empire? Are you positioning Britain as a rather small group of insignificant islands compared with the empire? And do you think you might be criticised by people who feel uncomfortable about focusing on those who weren't physically located in Britain at the time?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> Look, one works on the basis that, if you're a writer, any kind of writer, there's going to be some people who don't like what you write. I don't think you can govern your creativity on that basis. I hope, and I may be wrong, that the British Empire is now sufficiently distant--still controversial, but sufficiently distant--for people to take rather different perspectives on it. And in a sense I wanted to go beyond two connected but, I think, equally wrong retrospective views of the British Empire.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One is, if you like, the conservative, nostalgic view, which is not common now, certainly not outside these islands, but you can still find it in, I don't know, in the <I>Daily Telegraph</I>. The idea that empire was about ladies with parasols and gentlemen in flashy uniforms on white horses and lots of servants, croquet on sunlit afternoons in Africa and all that sort of stuff. This is a late Victorian, early Edwardian pastiche of a certain kind of empire.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The kind of empire I'm looking at is much more grubby, much more contested, much more plebeian, much more what actually went on. So I want to sort of get rid of, or modify, if you like, the conservative, nostalgic view.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">But I also want to modify the view put over by some postcolonial scholars who hate, very often for good reasons, what the European empires did in the past. But it is precisely because they hate it so much that, paradoxically, they tend to exaggerate the power of these past European empires. And one of the reasons I want to talk about captives is that people tend to forget just how puny the British often were in the past, certainly in terms of manpower. Population was always limited. A lot of the British Empire rested on bluff, compromise, all kinds of deals, and things often went wrong. I hope the story I will tell, which will be different, will be interesting enough for some people to enjoy it anyway.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Where have you tended to find captivity narratives, and do they take any distinctive forms?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> I found out about captivity narratives when I taught at Yale University, which I did in the '80s and early '90s. Captivity narratives are a big thing for American historians, and Americanists use them all the time, narratives written by American settlers captured by Native Americans. One of my colleagues, a great American historian, John Demos, was an expert on these narratives, and he told me about them. But he said very proudly that this was a distinctively American source. I remember, when I first heard him say that, that I was very peeved, because it sounded like such a fantastic source. But I then thought, "No I don't believe it's a distinctively American source. There must be analogous British source material."</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">So I looked for it in all sorts of places. I looked in the British Library catalogue on-screen; I looked in all kinds of archives, often by doing nothing more sophisticated than looking at the index under "Captivity" and seeing what came out.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">These are extraordinary texts. They're too diverse to be called just one particular genre, but they flourished in these islands from the sixteenth century well into the nineteenth century. They are narratives which take many different forms, written by men and women who've had an experience at captivity, come back and want to write it up. Sometimes they publish the story. Sometimes they just write it in manuscript as a kind of therapeutic act. But of course a lot of these people are not particularly rich. They're writing these stories partly to tell a good story, to get attention, and in some cases to earn money.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Do you think male captivity narratives are very different from female captivity narratives? Do women's stories tend to be a story of the victim that was captured and caught and forced to live a certain lifestyle, whereas men's might be more focused on the hero?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> The difference between the genders and how they write up captivity is a very interesting and complex question. Partly it's complex because captivity can mean very different things for the two sexes.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There was always a risk, if you were female, that your captors would capture you sexually as well as in the more conventional fashion. And many women captives we know never got back, because they were taken in every sense. They were bedded, very often they had children, mixed-race children, and sometimes they stayed with their captors. In some cases this seems to have been out of affection and not just coercion.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This happened quite often in Native American society. Women who had been taken captive and then had found mates, had children and been like this for about 10 years or so were often so soaked in their new environment that they didn't want to come back. They'd got a new identity. Obviously, then, to the extent that women have different captivity experiences you're going to have a different kind of text.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">As to admitting to vulnerability, that's something I find very interesting in captivity narratives: how people do it, not just depending on what gender they are but also what class background they have, whether they have a military and naval background. How much vulnerability will people admit to? How much will they admit to compromising with their new societies, adjusting to very different customs and manners? What are they prepared to admit? And is there a difference between what they are prepared to admit in manuscript, perhaps just a private diary they write on their return, and what they're prepared to publish? I think it's a very complex but intriguing issue.</span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><A HREF="1554_505.ram" TARGET="_blank"></A></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> How were these different narratives reacted to back home in Britain? You talked about narratives being published, but what were British reactions once people heard about what was going on with Britons in other countries?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> We know they were very popular, precisely because so many of them were published and also because of the number of editions that many of these narratives go through. So we know that people are buying them. How people reacted, I think, varied enormously over time and space.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">With the so-called Barbary captives, those who were taken captive by the North African powers and in many cases enslaved, people found out about them not just through captivity narratives but through church sermons, because there were nationwide collections in the churches, to raise ransoms, to try and get these slaves back. In the second half of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century, you'll often get these slave stories told by clergymen as sermons. They'll write it up and talk about it to their parishioners in church services as a way of encouraging them to give money, to ransom these British and Irish slaves held captive in the Ottoman Empire or in North Africa.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Obviously, some people were deeply upset by these stories, deeply upset by the thought that someone who was British could be a slave. The idea that someone white could become a slave was interesting, and I think it had a great impact on people. By the time the big Victorian Empire has been created and the British have got a much more inflated sense of themselves, there are certain things that people don't want to see perhaps so much in a captivity narrative.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">For example, a lot of Brits were taken captive in Afghanistan in 1838-41, including quite a few women; and when they came back, some of these, both men and women, released stories. People by this stage were more ambivalent about captivity, because of their heightened sense of national and imperial grandeur.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Again, this is partly why I'm looking at these captivities over time, because I do want to trace changing responses, not just on the part of the writers, the captives themselves, but on the part of the audience back in Britain.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Some of your work focuses on renegades and turncoats and people who "go native." What can the stories of these people tell us about British identity and empire?</span><br> <br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> Identity is something which fascinates me. It informed my last book, <i>Britons</i>, which came out in 1992. And I was very conscious as I wrote <I>Britons</I> that, for a start, it isn't just identity, it's <I>identities</I>. People have plural identities and they shift about over their lifetimes and in different situations.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In this book, I was interested to see what happened to people when they were put, if you like, in a frontier situation and their identity was put under extreme pressure--when they were exposed to very different societies, which in many cases tried to woo them or perhaps coerce them to change sides.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">For example, Native American tribes, because they suffered such terrible demographic losses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were often anxious to adopt white captives if they were young, healthy and appeared malleable enough, whether they were male or female. Obviously, considerable pressure could be put on such people to become adopted, to cross over.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">If white captives did become adopted, they got a new name and were given new parents, as it were. They changed costumes, they changed customs, they changed religious beliefs. And we know that these kinds of adoptions, particularly among the young, often work very well. People did change over, and I'm interested in this.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I'm interested, too, in how the orthodox back home coped with the fact that people from these islands could go out into the world and, instead of conquering, be taken over, be conquered, if you like. What happens? I think that when people go abroad in any situation, and when they come to frontier zones, they tend to respond in one or two very different ways.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Their existing identity can be strengthened, or it can be changed. They can either not come back at all, or perhaps come back very different. It's clear that even many of the returning captives, the ones who didn't cross over, were not the same people when they came back. Their attitudes, their mannerisms, even the way they walked, everything was very different, and they found it very difficult to reintegrate into their home society.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> I'm really interested in the idea that you have turned on its head the way we think of the British Empire. Rather than thinking about the great British supremacy, you're looking at the underdogs and the people who were not positioned in Britain. How do you think this will change the way historians traditionally approach ideas of Western power? Will this alternative view give us a new way of understanding race relations?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> I don't want to suggest or convey in this book an overly sentimental view of race relations. Nor do I want to minimise the degree of power which the British gradually acquired. Certainly by the 1830s, when steam power is coming in, when early machine guns are coming in, we're talking about real technological differences between the West and the rest. But by talking about areas of British weakness and crises, and situations where British people found themselves vulnerable to non-European peoples and powers, I want to make people think harder about assumptions of where power is and how it can be exercised. There's that famous phrase "We have the Gatling gun, but they do not," and there is often an assumption among the general public that whites always had technological supremacy.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In fact, this only became really pronounced in the second half of the nineteenth century, and even more in the twentieth century. Technology was more evenly distributed before about the 1830s. Indian armies that fought the British in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had very similar cannon to the ones that the British were using. There wasn't a clear technological divide on land.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Also, I want people to think more broadly about slavery. We still tend to think of slavery as a purely black phenomenon. Well, historically, it wasn't. I'm not at all implying that the Brits and Irish who were taken captive and enslaved by the Ottoman Empire and by the North African powers were at all comparable in number to those blacks who were seized and driven over the Atlantic, in the transatlantic slave trade, by the British. The numbers involved were very different.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Nonetheless, it is important to remember that when people thought of slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they didn't just think it was something to do only with blacks. They knew that whites could be enslaved. And I think that has to be factored into what we think about views of race at that time.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Are there any examples of cases where they've actually tried, despite being captives, to hold on to their own sense of Britishness? They might do this by holding on to the objects they have while they are captive, just to maintain a sense of what is, for them, normality.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> I think particularly if captives knew, or at least hoped, that they would be released, or if they were, say, military or naval officers with a marked sense of discipline and patriotic identity, they would try to think of ways to reaffirm their Britishness, to symbolise it in some way during captivity, in so far as they were allowed to do so.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Some captivity narratives were written by captives during their imprisonment. In such cases I think people very deliberately wrote out their story as it happened, in an attempt to keep control of it. Their liberty had gone. Their bodies were at the mercy of other people. But by writing out their experiences, they controlled the narrative at a certain level.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Other captives, we know, were desperate to cling to books, either to the Bible, which could reaffirm their Christian identity, or to any reminder of what language was theirs. There was a real danger that if people were taken captive and kept captive for a long time, and could only deal in the local language or languages, even if they'd been held for only a couple of years, they came out linguistically confused, in some cases having lost English. So reminding themselves of their own language was often crucial for captives.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Clothes, too, were another way that you reaffirmed who you were, even in a position of dire stress. We know that captives who were stripped of their Western clothing would sometimes try to sew their own replacement clothes, in what seemed to them some kind of a Western style. We also know that captives were very conscious that it was a symbolically significant act if they adopted local costume.</span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><A HREF="1554_509.ram" TARGET="_blank"></A></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> Do you think that they were sometimes accepted because they assumed foreign costume, or do you think that in many cases they were actually rejected and almost ridiculed for trying to be more Muslim, etc.?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> I think it's a very important point to talk in terms of not just what the captives wanted or tried to do, or what they thought of captivity, but also of what the captors' societies wanted. After all, keeping white people alive cost money, cost food, cost trouble. So the captor societies had to want something from keeping these people alive.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Sometimes they might want Western military knowledge or mercenaries trained in Western military discipline. Sometimes they wanted women for fairly predictable reasons. Sometimes if they were Native American tribes whose numbers had been depleted through wars and disease they wanted to recruit new members to the tribe. Sometimes there was a religious motive. Some Muslim captors did want not to force their religion on captive Christians but certainly to coax them into the fold if they were willing to come. So there could be all sorts of motives, as far as the captors' societies were concerned, as to why they wanted these people.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Question:</B> You recently came back to the UK after a period of time in the US. Was your return home influenced by the radical things that are happening in Britain at the moment, both in terms of the setup of parliaments in Scotland and Wales and in terms of a more general reassertion of national identity?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><B>Colley:</B> I don't think the primary reasons for my return were political or nationalistic in any sense or form. Having been in the United States for 16 years has been very important for me intellectually, because it has enabled me to look at Britain in a much more detached way and to ask different questions about it with different methodologies.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">But certainly, for a historian who's interested in national identities and their flux and how people write about them, being in Britain at the moment is constantly intriguing. Even if current events mean that almost every day I get called up by the BBC or asked by some radio programme to predict what's going to happen, which of course I don't know. But it's an interesting time to be here.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.</span></p> </td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>