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Kathryn Prince


The captivity narratives produced in New England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are rich and complex sources in which to discover early modern attitudes towards empathy. Contemporary scholars including Sara Ahmed and Carolyn Pedwell have argued that empathy can be problematic, reifying and reproducing various forms of injustice under the guise of fellow feeling. On the early modern North American frontier, empathy was understood as problematic for other reasons, an undesirable response to both the captors and the captive that was often diverted, displaced, or denied in captivity narratives. By situating the captivity narratives of Hannah Swarton, Hannah Dustan, Mary Rowlandson and Elizabeth Hanson within their initial cultural contexts and contemporary theories of empathy and emotions, this essay contributes to an alternative history of empathy.