The Pirate’s Gaze: 18th-Century English and French Chart Making of the Mediterranean Sea

Christine Petto - Professor, Department of History, Southern Connecticut State University



In the 17th and 18th centuries, European powers vied for trading dominance in the East and buttressed their efforts in the eastern seas by competing (and negotiating) amongst themselves, with eastern traders, and the ever-present pirates and privateers in the Mediterranean Sea. This Sea became a mediated space in which maps and navigational charts were tools of mediation. For pilots, privateers, and pirates these particular geographical works were immediate instruments of mediation for and of the area they covered. They valued and protected their maritime information as they vacillated not only between ‘legitimate’ pilots and pirates, but also between admiration and contempt for one another. In a parallel sphere often far from the vessels in the Mediterranean these maps and charts were influential political documents for the boardroom of powerful trading companies. In other words, while pilots and pirates appreciated the utilitarian nature of the navigational chart, the directors or royal commissioners of these companies appreciated the visual trading land and sea ‘scape’ on view for shareholders, members of Parliament, ministers of state or the king himself, all of whom needed convincing that the company was viable and worth supporting. There existed, then, at least a dual sphere of mediation and the chart or map presented or utilized in these spheres depended on the audience. One work is about safely navigating from one place to another, while the other was a visual display of economic (sometimes political and/or military) possession or influence. This project will investigate English and French maps (and charts) to illustrate and study these varying spheres of mediation.

© 2019 Sylvia Ioannou Foundation
All rights reserved. Designed by Steficon S.A.