The Social Construction of Crime in the Atlantic World: Piracy as a Case Study

By Rebecca Simon.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This project examines how the definitions of “crime,” “criminals,” “licit,” and “illicit behavior” were used in the 18th-century Atlantic World. For the purpose of this study, I used pirates as a case study. The findings in my research show that the ideas of crime came from Puritan economic and moral standards that dominated the North American colonies. In my research I discovered that news articles and opinions focused heavily on the illicit behavior of pirates. No crime could be reported without mention of their heavy drinking, cursing, and bawdy behavior. In addition to looking at the pirate, this project also looks at societal standards and what constituted acceptable, moral behavior. Their actions of drinking, cursing, and swearing went against common moral tracts that were printed and circulated in order to ensure a common code of behavior. Murder and robbery were offenses punishable by death due to biblical influences, which dictated Commandments that specifically ordered execution to take place. To support my argument that religious ideas shaped the social construction of crime, I first look at early modern laws and codes of behaviors and then analyze the reactions to pirates.

Keywords: Crime, Society, Religion, History, North America, Atlantic World, 18th Century, Piracy, Pirates, Colonial America, Legal History, Maritime History, Social History, Journalism

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.75-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 774.837KB).

Rebecca Simon

Graduate Student, History Department, California State University, Northridge, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Rebecca Simon received her Master’s degree in Atlantic History at California State University Northridge and is currently completing her teaching credential and Master’s of Education at California Lutheran University. Her Master’s thesis, entitled “Recollections of the Jolly Roger: The Cultural Significance of Treasure Island,” analyzed the effect of the novel Treasure Island on yellow journalism in Great Britain and the United States during the late 19th century and how these factors changed public perceptions of pirates. She has presented her research at various academic conferences including the Phi Alpha Theta Biennial Convention in San Diego, the Phi Alpha Theta Southern Regional Conference at California State University Bakersfield, the Graduate Student Conference at Texas A&M University, and the International Conference of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at both Cambridge University and University of New Orleans. Rebecca’s academic interests are the early modern Atlantic World, piracy, print culture, criminology, literary history, intellectual history, cultural history, and popular culture.


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