The Politics of Piracy: Tunisian Pirates in the 17th-Century Mediterranean
2016 - 2017 (January-June)
Eda Ozel is a PhD candidate in History and Middle Eastern Studies program at Harvard University. Her research interests comprise Ottoman maritime history, economic history of the Mediterranean in the 16th and 17th centuries, history of Ottoman cartography, and history of capitalism. In her current project she explores the costs and benefits of piracy focusing more on the quantitative aspects of pirate economics, and integrating applications of digital humanities in her methods of historical research.
Eda’s project identifies the economic costs and benefits of piracy, and how these activities structured political and commercial relations in the 17th-century Mediterranean. The project focuses on Tunisia in the period known as the Muradid era (1631-1705), when multilayered connections prevailed between piracy, and the concurrent and conflicting interests of states, bureaucrats, military forces, investors, merchants, travelers, and coastal populations. Examining these connections, “Politics of Piracy” intends to show that piracy did cause increased risks, losses and expenses for some parties but at the same time, and not necessarily in a short-term perspective, it yielded mobility, revenue, and income opportunities for others. In these terms, piracy was not simply a problem of unlawful raids resulting from short-sighted economic ambitions dominating local politics, but it was an alternative way of conducting business, and making investments. Military, political, and economic relations in this geography were organized around piracy as such, and in ways discerned by the prevalent market forces and by the utilization of specific tools of international trade. Identifying and defining conflicts and partnerships involving Tunisian pirates within the markets for three specific commodities –grain, slaves, and ships, the project shows that throughout the 17th-century pirate operations in the Mediterranean steered the changing rules of military and economic competition as an embedded element in the development of such competitive networks.