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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Pirates in Print

Have pirates suffered from bad PR? According to “Pirates in Print: Seafaring Treasures of the Mandeville Special Collections Library,” an exhibit on view at the Geisel Library from October 1, 2012, through February 10, 2013, that may be the case. The exhibition consists of first editions of the most important books from the Golden Age of Piracy, all drawn from the Library’s Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages, considered the world’s most extensive collection of books documenting early Pacific voyages of exploration. The collection, which comprises more than 2,000 works dating from the 16th to the mid-19th century, 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, an assistant professor of history at UC San Diego and an authority on piracy. Hanna, who teaches a class, “The Golden Age of Piracy,” will also deliver a lecture in October to complement the exhibit.

While the modern idea of pirates brings to mind rum-soaked villains terrorizing the high seas, Hanna says that this portrayal does a disservice to pirates, who were often explorers, scientists, anthropologists, or even women. A “sea dog” like Sir Francis Drake, for example, engaged in piratical activities, but he was also one of the most prominent sea captains, navigators and politicians of the Elizabethan era.

According to Hanna, the Hill Collection, which he frequently consults, includes most of the original texts that have shaped our understanding of the “Golden Age of Piracy.” They include: Alexandre Exquemelin’s Bucaniers of America (1684); Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates... (1724); William Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World… (1698); and Lionel Wafer’s A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America (1699).

—Dolores Davies