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Linda Colley, Captives

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Linda Colley’s best known book is Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, an examination of how a British nation state and national identity was constructed over the course of the eighteenth century. Britain’s rise to power and status, especially its acquisition of a global empire, meant that the British got used to an image of the world in which they were either superior or at any rate not innately inferior to others; one of the most significant national ideas to come out of the eighteenth century experience was the popular refrain to Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia, declaring that ‘Britons never shall be slaves’. In Captives Linda Colley looks at the long history of Britons who were exactly that: slaves and captives. This produces a side of history that we are not used to seeing: villagers captured and carried off into slavery by Arab raiders along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall; Britons captured in tribal raids in the backwoods of colonial America or forced into the service of Indian princes. In many ways, reading Captives can be a sobering experience; it certainly adds some intriguing twists to the traditional narrative of British history.

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