A Word With a Past: Kidnap

In the mid-seventeenth century, the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean were suffering from a labor shortage.

The colonies had originally attracted Britain’s surplus population: dreamers, fortune-hunters, religious nuts, younger sons, prisoners of war, political failures, vagrants, criminals, the homeless, and the desperate.  Some came with a small financial stake.  Many came as indentured servants.  A few were physically coerced onto ships sailing west.

In 1640s and 1650s, the population base in Britain took a hit. More than eleven per cent of the population died in the English Civil War.  (In World War I, Britain’s second most devastating war, the loss was only three percent.)  With so many young men killed, the birth rate went down.  Consequently, wages went up.  Plenty of people must have asked themselves, “Why leave civilization for the colonies?”

With voluntary immigration down, involuntary immigration became more important.  The inmates of Britain’s prisons were given a chance at a new life–whether they wanted it or not.  Grown men were “Barbadosed”–the seventeenth century equivalent of being shanghaied (another word with a past, now that I think about it).

Worst of all, children were snatched from their parents and sent to the colonies as indentured servants.  As a result, a new word entered English:

Kidnap. .vt. To steal or carry off children or others in order to provide servants or laborers for the American plantations.

If You Only Read One Book on Islamic History…

I’ve been studying Islamic history for a long time now.  (Stops to count on her fingers. Thirty years??  Really??  Counts again. Dang. )

Last year I discovered the best general book on Islamic history I’ve ever read:  Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tanim Ansary.  I underlined as I read.  I annotated.  I put little Post-It tabs at critical points, the durable ones so I could go back to key arguments in the future.  In short, I had a conversation with that book.

An Afghani-American who grew up in Afghanistan reading English-language history for fun, Ansary argues that Islamic history is not a sub-set of a shared world history but an alternate world history that runs parallel to world history as taught in the West.  In Ansary’s account, the two visions of world history begin in the same place: the cradle of civilization nestled between the Tigris and the Euphrates.  They end up at the same place: a world in which the West and the Islamic world are major and often opposing players.  But the paths they take to the modern world, or more accurately the narratives that explain how “we” got to the modern world, are very different.  Ansary’s book unfolds those two narratives side by side in clear, lively, and often amusing prose.  I found his conclusions compelling.

If you’re only going to read one book on Islamic history, do yourself a favor:  chose Destiny Disrupted. Then let me know what you think about it.

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