Renegades, Slaves, and Pirates: the Representation of Mediterranean Corsair Wars and Barbary in early modern Western Literature and Culture
The interdependent phenomena of piracy, privateering, and slave trading have been endemic to the Mediterranean since antiquity. However, from the mid-sixteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth-century, these phenomena – known at the time as corso – grew exponentially, both in volume and impact. For more than a century, corso played a significant role in influencing the commercial and social exchanges in the Western Mediterranean, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals from all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Although both Europe and North Africa were deeply involved in corso, its image in early modern European culture became almost exclusively associated with the Muslim World and the North African region – known at the time as “Barbary” – giving shape to one of the “Great Fears” of pre-modern Europe. However, besides the anxiety, misapprehensions, and prejudice, corso’s geographical and cultural proximity also sparked significant intercultural and interreligious interactions. My primary corpus examines a collection of non-fictional and fictional texts, including captivity and redemption narratives, pamphlets, and news reports, as well as Romance epics, Baroque novels, novellas, dramas, and comedies. Through this study, I show how corso’s discursive representation ended up playing a crucial role in shaping European understanding of the Western Mediterranean at the time. My study contributes to enriching the predominant Euro-Ottoman orientation of early modern Mediterranean and Orientalist studies by considering the plurality of early modern Orientalisms.
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