The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History

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HarperPress, 2007 - Africa - 363 pages
From the author of 'Britons', the story of the exceptional life of the intrepid Elizabeth Marsh, caught up in trade, imperialism, war, exploration, migration, growing maritime reach, and new ideas. Linda Colley's new book breaks the boundaries between biography, family stories and global history.This is a book about a world in a life. An individual lost to history, Elizabeth Marsh (1735-85) travelled farther, and was more intimately affected by developments across the globe, than the vast majority of men. Conceived in Jamaica and possibly mixed-race, she was the first woman to publish in English on Morocco, and the first to carry out extensive overland explorations in eastern and southern India, journeying in each case in close companionship with an unmarried man. She spent time in some of the world's biggest ports and naval bases, Portsmouth, Menorca, Gibraltar, London, Rio de Janeiro, Calcutta and the Cape. She was damaged by the Seven Years War and the American Revolutionary War; and linked through her own migrations with voyages of circumnavigation, and as victim and owner, she was involved in three different systems of slavery.But hers is a broadly revealing, not simply an exceptional, life. Marsh's links to the Royal Navy, the East India Company, empire and international trade made these experiences possible. To this extent, her career illumines shifting patterns of British and Western power and overseas aggression. The swift onset of globalization occurring in her lifetime also ensured that her progress, relationships and beliefs were repeatedly shaped and deflected by people and events beyond Europe. While imperial players like Edmund Burke and Eyre Coote form a part of her story, so do African slave sailors, insubordinate north Indian servants, ubiquitous Sephardi Jewish traders, and the great Moroccan Sultan, Sidi Muhammad, who schemed to entrap her.Many modern biographies remain constrained by a national framework, while global histories are generally impersonal. By contrast, in this dazzling and original book, Linda Colley moves repeatedly and questioningly between vast geo-political transformations and the intricate detail of individual lives. This is a global biography for our globalizing times.

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User Review  - JBD1 - www.librarything.com

A microhistorical biography using Elizabeth Marsh as its main subject. Some of the tense shifts bugged me about the writing, but the deep research is much in evidence and the potential was there for an even more interesting book. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - mbmackay - LibraryThing

This is a very good book in a genre that lacks a name - history told through relating the life or events surrounding an insignificant player. Vignette history? Anecdotal history? The author has done a ... Read full review

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About the author (2007)

Linda Colley was professor of history at yale University from 1982-1997 when she accepted an appointment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has just accepted a position as professor of history at Princeton which will begin in the Fall of 2003.

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