Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Vivian Deno


The subject of Atlantic-based Golden Age (1650-1720) piracy has long been an area of historical and mythical fascination. The sea has historically been a realm outside the reaches of mainland society, where women could express any aspect of their personal identity. Women at the Helm: Rewriting Maritime History through Female Pirate Identity and Agency queers the history of Golden Age piracy while placing the colonial period’s seafaring women within a longer historical tradition of female maritime crime and power.

Notable female pirates of this era, including Ireland’s Grace O’Malley and the Caribbean’s Anne Bonny and Mary Read, through the act of piracy and maritime crime transcended the traditional gender roles placed on women. Women at the Helm discusses how these maritime women gained agency and autonomy through the transcendence of gender and sexuality norms, as well as how women manipulated their social situations to establish power in a world seemingly run by men. This contradicts the traditional heteronormative and patriarchal narrative of pirate women, which sees them as anomalies. Using the works of gender and sexuality theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, female Golden Age piracy can be understood to be a historical trend where women rework their social positions and perform genders in an advantageous way.

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