Parallels to modern day piracy
There are a lot of parallels with modern day piracy and piracy in the Tudor period and in the Golden Age of Piracy. There are current piracy problems in places off the coast of Africa and South America, in Asia as well.
Piracy never goes away. You can send naval ships in and they will deal with the problem in one area, but a new problem will just pop-up somewhere else. And this is classically what happened in the past. If the Royal Navy put ships in one place, the problem would just move elsewhere.
We sometimes think of modern day piracy as being quite low-tech, but it is becoming more and more sophisticated. Cyber-attacks can cost companies millions, threaten national security and endanger human life. We have the Cyber-SHIP Lab here at Plymouth, run by Professor Kevin Jones and his team, which combines maritime technology with leading-edge thinking from cyber-security.
Piracy in the past had been very innovative, always finding out new ways to attack: new places, new ships.
For example, in the mid-17th century, the Dunkirk privateers in Spain developed a new type of technology – innovative vessels that were fast and small and better to attack with.
Modern day pirates are looking to still innovate. Still figuring out the best way to beat the Navy. We can look back at some of the older solutions and see what happens if we tried them today. It’s a constant cycle and that's one of the fun things about piracy because it has that modern resonance.
Studying piracy at Plymouth
At Plymouth we have our own Piracy and Privateering in the British Isles module. What's interesting about our module, compared to anywhere else, is we cover a very broad range, which is really driven by the original sources of the time.
Our module has lots of regional links to Plymouth, as you would expect. What’s better than studying the sea in Britain’s Ocean City?
We study pirates with lots of local connections, such as Henry Avery, who was from Newton Ferrers. Avery was a pirate who operated in the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the mid-1690s. A number of his crew were arrested, but Avery eluded capture, vanishing from all records.
We also look at North African piracy and the Barbary corsairs, Ottoman and Berber pirates and privateers, who operated from North Africa and captured thousands of merchant ships and repeatedly raided coastal towns. And then we move across into the Caribbean.
We track pirates all the way around the globe. And we don’t just look at the great men, but also the ordinary pirate – both men and women – and the ordinary men and women affected by piracy, those who suffered, gained and lost.
It’s not just looking at the Drakes of the world, but of course we do study him, too.