BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Pirates: The Sea, The Empire and The Other

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31941
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit will introduce you to piracy in a world historical and longue durée perspective. In a big sweep, we will discuss questions of violence, imperialism and state formation in a broad perspective. Are humans inherently violent and thus need the state to discipline them? Are pirates criminals that need policing or are they rebels against an oppressive state? What is the difference between different actors of maritime violence; between pirate fleets and the navy? How are different forms of piracy linked to various stages of state formation and how is the romanticisation of pirates reflective of the rise of the modern total state? How are these processes driven by climate/environmental and demographic/economic change? The unit is thus not only about pirates with hooks and sabres but about dispositions of violence and socio-political order more generally; about practices of violence at sea but also about concepts of (maritime) law and order and imaginations of the other. 


  • Understand main developments of piracy in world history
  • Understand the interconnection of piracy, policing and state formation against back-drop of climate, demographic and economic change
  • Critically engage with primary sources and relevant historiography as well as more general seminal texts
  • Sharpen understanding of critical theoretical approaches in history and the social sciences more generally

Teaching and learning methods

 Lectures, seminars incl. directed reading, group work, enquiry based learning 

Blackboard, e-learning provision including recorded lectures, online tasks, discussion boards etc., presentations 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Acquire knowledge of world history of state formation and sea power
  • Understand basic concepts of (Medieval and modern) trade and international systems ·
  • Understand main debates in historiography

Intellectual skills

  • Critically evaluate scholarship
  • Formulate and evaluate research questions
  • Analyse primary sources

Practical skills

  • Active listening and discussion
  • Retrieval and application of material from specialist internet resources, including working with online databases
  • Understanding different individual knowledge management solutions
  • Oral/online presentation skills, including short presentations with short preparation time, discussion skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Written communication and informed discussion with peers
  • Working with databases
  • Critical text analysis (retrieval of data, compiling of information, analysis to gather (applicable) insights), historical consciousness (critical reviewing of actual trends)
  • Presentation skills including presentations with little preparation time as required in assessment centres.

Employability skills

See transferable skills: data- and knowledge management, presentation skills, ability to compose research papers, critical text/source analysis.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative Weighting within unit (%)
5 min presentation with handout OR short written assessment (source analysis/literature review Summative 20%


Summative 80%


Resit Assessment

Assessment task


Feedback methods

Feedback methods

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on all assessment tasks


Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment


Recommended reading

Stefan Eklöf Amirell, Buchan Bruce, and  Hans Hägerdal, ed., Piracy in World History Maritime Humanities, 1400-1800,  (Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univ. Press, 2021). 

Philip de Souza, Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge: University Press, 1999). 

Alberto Tenenti and Brian Pullan, Piracy and the Decline of Venice, 1580-1615 (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1967). 

Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750) (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1987). 

Peter T. Leeson, The Invisible Hook: : The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Princeton (N.J.): Princeton Univ. Press, 2009).  

Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations (Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 2009).  

Robert A. Denemark, "Piracy, State-Formation, and the Bounding of Social Systems", Journal of Globalization Studies 8, no. 1 (2017): 48-64.  

Jay Bahadur, The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (Pantheon, 2011).  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Georg Christ Unit coordinator

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