Space, Identity and Culture in North American Captivity Narratives, 1700-1776

  • Eva-Maria Mosser

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines eighteenth-century pre-Revolutionary War North American captivity narratives to analyse how captives described and made sense of their encounters with their Native American (and in some cases French Canadian) captors. It investigates the cultural boundaries and spaces constructed by the narratives and uses them as a starting point to challenge and problematise prevailing binary oppositions of freedom/captivity, safe/unsafe, civilised/uncivilised, and colonial/native grounded in a Eurocentric colonial discourse. It thus builds on existing scholarship that analyses cultural encounters between captives and captors, but questions and extends this scholarship through a specifically spatial focus to examine how colonials negotiated their identity and the possibility of multiple identities. Exploring questions of culture, identity, and belonging generates insight into how colonials negotiated their new roles as captives and (for those who were adopted by Native Americans) family members, and navigated the new cultural spaces they were confronted with during captivity, introducing a new way of reading captivity narratives by applying a set of spatial concepts. This thesis takes a structural approach to the selected captivity narratives by dividing them into the different stages of captivity, focusing on the specific spatial elements in each stage. Chapters 1 to 3 explore the first, second and third stages of captivity: the attack and capture, the captives' journey with their captors, and the confinement, or extended stay with their captors. Chapter 4 analyses two case studies in their entirety, also discussing the fourth and final stage (the captives' return). Overall, the thesis argues that these stages of captivity both facilitated and complicated the colonials' transformation into captives (and, for some, adopted members of their captors' group), and shows how they negotiated their own cultural identity. While none of the captives in the selected narratives fully dismissed their colonial identity, the moments of belonging and assimilation to their captors enables this thesis to challenge the colonial discourse that maintains the image of Native Americans as 'the Other'.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHal Gladfelder (Supervisor) & Fred Schurink (Supervisor)


  • eighteenth century
  • space
  • identity
  • spatial theories
  • frontier literature
  • captivity narratives
  • cultural studies

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