Scholarship on the global history of piracy (widely defined) is on the rise as academic researchers, journalists, lawyers, government officials and cyber specialists endeavor to identify, analyze, and in some cases, combat predation both at sea and in the contemporary digital universe.
Passionate encouraging his students to heartily embrace a spirit of intellectual adventure (“Avast ye sailors”), Rutland Professor of History Andrew Grant Wood offers his course “Pirates and Piracy in the Atlantic World” every fall semester. Listed at the 2000 level and open to all majors, Wood’s virtual semester at sea first offers students a way to approach the larger history of the Atlantic World political economy ca. 1500-1800. Here, students learn about the rise of the Portuguese seafaring empire, the consolidation of modern Spain and her unprecedented global imperium along with subsequent challenges to the Iberians mounted by privateers largely acting in the service of Elizabethan England and the Dutch Republic.
As the course unfolds, particular attention is then paid to Caribbean Sea where seventeenth century buccaneering and related turn of the eighteenth-century Golden Age piracy featured a rogues’ gallery of international villains including Henry Morgan, Bartholomew Roberts, Henry Avery, female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read as well as the colorful Edward Teach (aka “Blackbeard”).
From here, Wood’s dynamic survey shifts to critically consider late twentieth and early twentieth century circumstances including robbery at sea in the Indian Ocean as well as highly illegal fishing, whaling, abusive ship environments and wholesale ocean degradation in the Southern/ Antarctic Ocean as detailed by intrepid New York Times reporter Ian Urbina in his book The Outlaw Ocean (Vintage, 2020).
The final section of the course engages a variety of “critical cyber situations” ranging from hacking and ransoming institutional computer systems/networks to identity theft, violations of intellectual property rights and perhaps most shocking, the unconscionable collusion of big tech and the US government in violating civil liberties at home while aggressively engaging in widespread surveillance worldwide.
All told, students at the University of Tulsa find the course both challenging and rewarding for, as one graduating Mechanical Engineering major recently shared:
Having wanted to take the History of Pirates course since my first year, I very much enjoyed Professor Wood’s verve and was impressed by his engaging lectures. I loved not only how he made everyone feel included but also have to say I learned a lot. Pirates and Piracy helped me put all my prior history classes into larger meaningful perspective.