Pirates: Jack Sparrow or Somalian Hijackers? Asks Honors Class

By Purnell T. Cropper | August 3, 2010

By Sarah R. Schwartz ’10

A new Honors Program course—Piracy: The Sea Rover’s Life and Practice—asks the question: “Who do we call pirates today?”

Pirates generally aren’t thought of as topics of academic study, but rather as characters of pop culture. Dr. Sandra Hordis, Assistant Professor of English, says that’s exactly the point.

“Everybody thinks of Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and even Johnny Depp’s version of piracy, but there was so much more going on with piracy—then and now. Currently, it’s happening in Somalia and up and down the coast of Japan,” says Hordis, who is teaching the course (HN 390.1) this fall. “They are often what we might refer to as ‘whalers.’ But really, they’re subverting the law in order to make their own money, so if we want to put a broad definition on ‘piracy,’ this is sort of what they’re doing.”

One of the course objectives is to separate reality from the pop culture notions that have been developed over the years. The course will juxtapose piracy as it’s portrayed in literature and film with the reality of the trade, ranging from the late 1600s through the present day.

“We look at somebody like Disney’s Jack Sparrow, and we say, ‘Oh yay! Pirate’s life for me!’ but it was violent, it was sporadic. You might be out of work for months at a time. And with all of the laws that were going on with privateers—government sanctioned pirates—and the British Navy, the Spaniards and even the Dutch, it wasn’t an easy life at all,” says Hordis.

The course content challenges students to investigate wide-ranging topics and draw conclusions based on their individual findings. Arcadia’s Honors Program merges the best of the University’s academic traditions with innovative Honors courses while providing a community that fosters scholarly endeavors and leadership for a select group of students.