Premiering, ‘Are You A Pirate?!’


Please follow the YouTube link below to see the full performance of ‘Are You A Pirate?!’, a dramatic presentation I co-wrote and performed on December 2-3 in St Andrews! This ‘thesis on stage’ was the culmination  of three years of research and hand-recreation of a 1780s maritime wardrobe, hopefully making my academic work available and engaging to a wider audience (both in person and here online). This project was generously supported by the St Andrews History Department, my tutor Professor Gerard de Groot, the Mermaids student drama society, a £300 grant by the St Andrews Student Union, and the input of many friends and colleagues in the living history world, both in the USA and Europe. My co-performer and academic colleague onstage was the brilliant PhD student Peryn Westerhof Nyman. And since this is the first time I’ve had the chance to share it more widely, please do comment, repost, critique, and generally tell me what you think!

Our three main topics are as follows: 

Intro) ‘The Lowlands of Holland‘ – A 1776 reprinted ballad about a woman mourning her husband lost at sea. In finding this song, we were greatly helped by the input of 2016 Laidlaw Scholar Meg Hyland. (0:05-4:55) [Lyrics in full original form below.]


‘The sorrowful Lover’s Regrate: or, The Lowlands of Holland.’, 1776, Edinburgh Library.

a) ‘Dressing Sailor Fashion‘ – What garments were specific to seamen and women in maritime communities – how did they work and how was the wider fashions they created viewed by wider society? And further, what are the differences and analogies that can be made from this sillhouette to modern clothing? Watch as we dress piece-by-piece in the apparel of fisherfolk from Fife Scotland, examining and describing each layer in turn. Ultimately, we outline an argument that sailors and fishwives intentionally dressed in a highly specific and visible manner, even when this risked potential for violent impressment into the Navy. (8:30-1:15:17)


Anonymous artist, ‘The Press Gang’, 1774, Walpole Library.

b) ‘Why Pyrates Suck – and could be so much more?‘ – Pirates are the face of the 18th century to most audiences due to their recent revival in popular media – but how can historians critique their depiction and larger historical significance? Using the critical angles of violence, gender, and race, is it possible to move beyond Johnny Depp and make deeper themes and case-studies in nautical history appealing to modern viewers? Throughout this punchy section are also freely interspersed some truly terrible pirate jokes and puns… (1:15:34-1:33:26)

Recreation - tattooing.JPG

RI artist Forrest Curl hand-poking an anchor tattoo on Hermione’s main gundeck, July 2015.

c) ‘Why Authenticity Matters‘ – How do we move beyond ‘bullfacts‘, ‘Horrible History’, ‘Golden Age’ nostalgia, and teach about our past based on solid research? How is this process tangible and practical in the reproduction clothing worn by Peryn and myself? Can we flip our perspective on the past, recognize its agency and see another point of view on our present through this? How can we combine all types of evidence (visual, material, textual, etc!) to flesh out a fully nuanced vision of heritage? And how does our work this semester fit into other examples of modern public history projects which have successfully pushed understanding of history in pragmatic ways around the world? (1:33:28-1:45:16)


Hoisting the starboard main topsail aboard l’Hermione, summer 2015. [Philippe Leray]

And as always, tell me what you think – this is public history, and your input is vital! If anything in the video strikes a chord and resonates with you, or if you disagree, or simply want more information – comment below, or send me an e-mail.



One thought on “Premiering, ‘Are You A Pirate?!’

  1. Pingback: Sharing 1780s ‘Fishy Fashion’: a 4th Year Case Study in Public History by Peryn Westerhof Nyman and Adam Hodges-LeClaire | St Andrews School of History

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