Robert Spindler (University of Munich) on "Barbary Captivity and German Literature: Narrating Mediterranean Piracy and Slavery in Germany and Austria, 1550 – 1800"


Thursday, December 9, 2021, 3:00pm to 5:00pm


Barker Center 359

Piracy and captivity in the early modern Mediterranean, from the mid-sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, are historical phenomena that are scarcely anchored in the collective cultural memory today (in Europe even less than in the United States), despite their immense historical, diplomatic, and cultural repercussions. Even in world literature, the influence of the so-called Barbary corsairs was considerable. Cervantes had been a North African captive and processed this experience in his literary output in manifold ways. Daniel Defoe let his emblematic hero Robinson Crusoe spend two years in the hands of Barbary corsairs before setting out towards his desert island. And Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative has all the characteristics of the accounts of British captives in North Africa that European audiences had at that time already enjoyed for almost a hundred years.

Germany and German sea trade were also affected by Mediterranean piracy, and a Barbary captivity discourse in German literature and culture developed as a consequence. This talk will provide a survey of a variety of texts in the German language that processed these experiences, including little known, prototypical Barbary captivity narratives as well as more canonical texts. It will explore some of the remarkable ways in which Mediterranean piracy and captivity found their way into the literary history of German-speaking Europe.

Photograph of Robert Spindler

Dr. Spindler, who is currently pursuing a Masters degree in German Literature at University of Munich, completed his doctorate in Literature and Cultural Studies at University of Innsbruck in 2016. He has researched and lectured at University of Innsbruck, University of Minnesota, and the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. Dr. Spindler’s research has been supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Austrian Science Fund, the City of Innsbruck, and the County of Tyrol. At Harvard, he will study Mediterranean slavery and Ottoman-Habsburg maritime encounters in the early modern period, with support from the Fulbright Commission.

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