UCSD-TV profiles history professor Mark Hanna’s unabashed fascination with pirates within a 12-minute video titled “Here Be Pirates: The First Citizen Scientists.”
“In all my classes, I emphasize the concept of empathy,” Hanna says, “…trying to understand the particular circumstances and context of another person’s life that is so different from ours.”
UC San Diego history professor Mark Hanna on the Golden Age of Piracy: “...anarchistic maniacs … some of the craziest people you can possibly imagine."
Different and, through the ages, fascinating, providing fodder for serious academic study.
An assistant professor of history since 2007, Hanna has metaphorically sacked and pillaged the stacks of Geisel Library and its highly-regarded “Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages,” a treasure trove of rare printed materials.
Rare and extensive, the world-renowned collection includes authentic log books and original documents dating back through the 17th and 18th centuries when piracy was rife.
“I tell students all the time that history is not necessarily only what happened in the past," says Hanna, "it’s also the way we construct a story or a narrative about the past, based on the sources we have available to us. … History is a construct that we fight over. … If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have jobs. So we battle, we debate.”
The UC San Diego library collection includes many first-edition manuscripts and artifacts, "every significant printed text" from the era, says Hanna. Together, the collection captures the lives of those he calls “anarchistic maniacs who light their beards on fire … some of the craziest people you can possibly imagine.”
Hanna says his students inevitably “find it shocking” that the majority of ships' log books from the age of piracy also contain surprisingly detailed, even scholarly descriptions about all manner of sea life, plants and animals. Turns out that life at sea wasn't simply violent acts, craven behavior and to-the-death battles.
“Only a small percentage is about swashbuckling piracy at sea,” he says. “You could read a 300-page document and have 20 pages involving violence. The rest is about [such benign topics as] flamingos and hummingbirds and seals.”
“Here Be Pirates: The First Citizen Scientists” is presented by the UC San Diego Library Channel. It includes footage that profiles the San Diego’s Natural History’s current exhibit, “Real Pirates,” plus video taken aboard tall ship “Columbia” from the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Producer/Editor: John Menier; Photographers: Matt Alioto, Marcie Bretts, John Menier; Executive Producer: Shannon Bradley.