Anthropology of Piracy

Edward Teach Commonly Call'd Black Beard (bw).jpg

Image: Blackbeard (Edward Teach) from: Johnson, Captain Charles (1724), A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (Second ed.), Paternoster Row, London: T Warner

Course Basics

FYS 200-00
Spring 2018

Instructor Information

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Office: Sociology/ Anthropology 9
Office Hours: MTW 2-3 pm (see Dr. Carter’s General Policies for scheduling appointments)
Phone: 484-664-3961
Social Sciences Librarian: Jessica Denke (jessicadenke at

General Policies

You are required to read Dr. Carter’s Policies. You are responsible for understanding and following these policies. If you have a question, please ask in class as your fellow students will benefit.

Course Description

As a First Year Seminar, this class is about thinking through reading, writing and discussion. It is fundamentally about the importance of a growth mentality, about recognizing that you know relatively little and can learn from nearly everything, but only if an analytical mind is brought to bear. Please see these documents for additional detail on what an FYS is (Description. Best Practices). The focus of this course is on assessing and producing sound analysis through writing, not necessarily upon the mechanics (punctuation, grammar, etc.). Of course, mechanics are not unimportant since they can improve or hamper your analysis. We want to enjoy reading and writing as a process of growing, of enriching your own understanding of the world with a critical eye to arguments and how they are made. It is also about learning from each other through thoughtful, collaborative engagement with the material.

The content of the course is about pirates. The topic was chosen because, well, images (both visual and literary)  of pirates are all around us. Why are we so fascinated with pirates? Where did this fascination begin? Why are pirates thought of as both evil, vicious criminals and democratic, “Robin Hoods” of the sea? Who gets to label a pirate an outlaw and who gets to legalize piracy (yes, it was legal… it just wasn’t called piracy)?  An analysis of piracy provides a window into the lives of “criminals;” their reasons for breaking the law and the lives they constructed outside of governmental laws and the social rules by which they operated. Essentially, there are anthropological questions.

We are lucky enough to have a Writing Assistant, who assists with constructing and carrying out the important work of this course. The writing assistant will meet with each of you at least 3 times to discuss your writing. The writing assistant’s role is less about the details of writing, but about helping you improve analytical skills.


Required Texts:

Woodard, Colin. 2008. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Reprint edition. Mariner Books. ISBN= 9780151013029

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephens. 2015. Writing Analytically. Seventh. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
ISBN= 1285436504

Smith, Joshua M. 2006. Borderland Smuggling: Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783-1820. 1st ed. University Press of Florida. ISBN= 0813037066. Available through the library HERE.

Additional readings will be available on Canvas.


At the completion of this course students will be better able to:

  1. Describe the basic “data” of Piracy; what “facts” do we know?
  2. Identify locations discussed in the texts
  3. Address why pirates were considered criminals and by whom
  4. Understand how pirates organized life aboard ship and on land
  5. Understand and articulate an anthropological perspective.
  6. Apply an anthropological perspective to the lives of pirates
  7. Use writing as a means of analysis.
  8. Develop a research question which is then transformed into a thesis.
  9. Engage other people, authors, and works in the analysis of a question.
  10. Construct an analysis through the appropriate thoughtful application of appropriate evidence.
  11. Forge a thoughtful, complex argument with evidence from this thesis.
  12. Understand the importance of information and where it comes from and utilize appropriate information sources to deploy well-supported in an effort to
  13. Be more comfortable with complexity and ambiguity.


Writing Journal- 30%
Research Paper- 30%
Two Papers- 20%
Piracy map- 10%
Attendance and Participation- 10%


NOTE: These descriptions are summaries, not the actual assignments.

Writing Journal- The writing journal lies at the heart of this course. It is composed of all of the small writing assignments completed as a part of this class. Some of these will be written outside of class, some during. They will vary in length, content and purpose, but as a whole are a record of your engagement with the class, with writing and with piracy. These assignments will be organized in a Google Folder, which will be shared with the instructor via Canvas. This folder will contain all of your in-class and out-of class writing assignments (except the two papers and your research paper. Each one of these separate files will be submitted in Canvas. Each submission will be graded on a 10 point scale. Your contribution will be assessed with a check (8), check plus (9) or check minus (7). 10s are very rare, but are used in cases of exceptionally analytical writing. Missing assignments receive a 0 (so turn them ALL in!).

Piracy map- In order to best understand piracy, you need to know where it was happening, where pirates lived and where anti-piracy centers of power resided. To that purpose, each of you will create your own, unique Google Map that identifies these locations and indicates why they were important (see assignment description here).

Research Paper- This paper is the second most substantial aspect of this course. While the first portion of the class will be spent considering both piracy in general and analyzing your reading and your writing, during the second, you will have more time to deeply consider a particular aspect of piracy. The end product of this process is a research paper. More details will be discussed later, but it will be well-researched, with an sizable bibliography and it will be an analysis, not a report. It will be thoughtful, well-organized and well-constructed. As such, it is an application of many of the principles that you learned in the first section of the class. This paper will be written as components (Proposal, Preliminary Bibliography, Annotated Bibliography,  Outline, Draft, Final) and each will be receive feedback as well as a grade.

Two Papers- During the early portion of the class, you will be assigned two 4-6 page papers. Although they are stand-alone papers, their purpose is to help you begin to think about and consider aspects of piracy upon which you would like think and research more deeply.

Attendance and Participation- Yes, you need to be in class. The goal of the class is to develop and build your analysis skills. If you are not present, you will miss out on valuable information, analysis and conversation. Your grade, therefore, is dependent upon attending class as well as actively participating when you are present. Besides it just makes the class more FUN!