Atlantic World

Atlantic World

The Atlantic World is an organizing concept for the historical study of the Atlantic Ocean rim from the beginning of the Age of Exploration to the modern era. In many ways the history of the "Atlantic world" culminates in the "Atlantic Revolutions" of the late 18th century and early 19th century. Atlantic slave trade continued into the 19th century, subsiding with the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawing slavery in 1865 and the abolishment of slavery in Brazil in 1888. The historical subdiscipline concerned with the study of the Atlantic World is Atlantic history.


The Atlantic World comprises the five continents bordering the Atlantic Ocean: Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica; the Arabian and Caribbean subcontinents are the furthest extent of the Atlantic rim from East to West. The Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea in the Old World, as well as the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the New World, represent the core of global affairs on either side of the Rim. The Arctic Ocean and Antarctic Ocean are Northern and Southern frontiers on the Atlantic Rim.

Until the invention of aircraft in the twentieth century, seafaring was the primary--in many cases, the only--mode of long-distance travel. New settlements were typically established on seacoasts; over time the population gradually spread inland. The Atlantic rim was a community created by maritime traffic on the Atlantic Ocean. Distant settlements were linked by elaborate sea-based trading networks. The Atlantic Rim is in many respects a counterpart to the Pacific Rim.


Since Classical Antiquity, the Mediterranean Basin had functioned as an interconnected cultural, economic and geopolitical sphere, the focal point of what the Greeks called the Oikumene. This regional unity reached its apotheosis in the pan-Mediterranean political dominion imposed by the Roman Empire but persisted even after the Fall of the Roman Empire and into the early modern period and beyond. The first historian to offer a comprehensive account of this unified Mediterranean history was the French historian of the Annales School Fernand Braudel, who argued in his books "The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II" and "The Structures of Everyday Life" that the countries that bordered the Mediterranean should not be studied as isolated and discrete nation states, but should instead be situated within the larger geographic, economic and political context of the Mediterranean World.

Following the earliest European voyages to the New World and Africa and the division of the Americas between the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire effected by the Treaty of Tordesillas, a network of economic, geopolitical and cultural exchange -- an "Atlantic World" comparable to Braudel's "Mediterannean World" -- began to coalesce among the nations and peoples that inhabited the Atlantic litoral of North America and South America, West Africa and Western Europe.

Environmental history

The beginning of extensive contact between Europe, Africa, and the Americas had sweeping implications for the environmental history of all the regions involved. In a process known as the Columbian exchange, numerous plants, animals, and diseases were transplanted--both deliberately and inadvertently--from one continent to another. The epidemiological impact of this exchange on the indigenous peoples of the Americas was profound, causing massive and widespread mortality (see Population history of American indigenous peoples). Many foods that are common in present-day Europe, including tomatoes and potatoes, originated in the New World and were unknown in Europe before the sixteenth century. Similarly, some staple crops of present-day West Africa, including cassava and peanuts, originated in the New World. Some of the staple crops of Latin America, such as coffee and sugarcane, were introduced by European settlers in the course of the Columbian Exchange.

lavery and other labor systems

The slave trade played a role in the history of the Atlantic world almost from the beginning. As European powers began to conquer and claim large territories in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the role of chattel slavery and other forced labor systems in the development of the Atlantic world expanded. European powers typically had vast territories that they wished to exploit through agriculture, mining, or other extractive industries, but they lacked the work force that they needed to exploit their lands effectively. Consequently, they turned to a variety of coercive labor systems to meet their needs. Native Americans were employed through Indian slavery and through the Spanish system of encomienda. European workers arrived as indentured servants or transported felons. African workers were imported via the Atlantic slave trade and were used extensively throughout North and South America.

The extent of voluntary immigration to the Atlantic world varied considerably by region, nationality, and time period. Many European nations, particularly the Netherlands and France, failed to obtain as many voluntary European immigrants as they hoped to. In New Netherland, the Dutch coped by recruiting immigrants of other nationalities. In New England, the massive Puritan migration of the first half of the seventeenth century created a large free workforce and thus obviated the need to use unfree labor on a large scale. Colonial New England's reliance on the labor of free men, women, and children, organized in individual farm households, is called the family labor system.

The French colony of Saint-Domingue was one of the first American jurisdictions to end slavery, in 1794. Brazil was last nation in the Western Hemisphere to end slavery, in 1888.

Political history

The Spanish conquistadores conquered the Aztec empire in present-day Mexico and the Inca empire in present-day Peru with ease, assisted by horses, guns, and above all by the devastating mortality inflicted by newly introduced diseases such as smallpox. To some extent the prior emergence of the Inca and Aztec empires as regional powers aided the transfer of governance to the Spanish, since these native empires had already established road systems, state bureaucracies and systems of taxation and intensive agriculture that were in some cases inherited wholesale by the Spanish. The early Spanish conquerors of these empires were also aided by political instability and internal conflict within the Aztec and Incan regimes, which they successfully exploited to their benefit.

One of the problems that most European governments faced in the Americas was how to exercise authority over vast expanses of territory. Spain, which colonized Mexico, Central America, and the greater part of South America, established a network of viceroyalties to administer different regions of its New World holdings: the Viceroyalty of New Spain (1535), the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542), the Viceroyalty of New Granada (1717/1739), and the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (1776). Britain approached the task of governing its New World territories in a similar, though less centralized, manner, establishing about twenty distinct colonies in North America and the Caribbean from 1585 onward. Each British colony had its own governor and elected assembly. In both New Spain and British North America, each viceroyalty or colony interacted directly with the Spanish or British Crown and had no formal relationship with the other American colonies that belonged to its mother country.

Independence movements in the New World began with the American Revolutionary War and the Haitian Revolution soon followed. The Quasi-War, Louisiana Purchase, Barbary Wars, War of 1812, Monroe Doctrine and American Colonization Society signified stability and aggressive autonomy on the part of Americans. The New World equalized its power to the Old, in the quagmire of vicious wars raging throughout Europe and abundance of land to expand in under Manifest Destiny. Ultimately, Americans as Age of Enlightenment successors of the English Renaissance Virginia colony and Age of Reason Virginia Company would inherit colonial economic competition and political conditions from the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the form of the violent American Civil War. Remnants of the Cavalier London Company and Roundhead Plymouth Company would resurrect in their respective forms of Confederacy and Union.

As an historical concept

Historian Bernard Bailyn traces the concept of the Atlantic world to an editorial published by journalist Walter Lippmann in 1917. [ Bailyn, "Atlantic History," 6-7.] The alliance of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, and the subsequent creation of NATO, heightened historians' interest in the history of interaction between societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. [ Bailyn, "Atlantic History," 9.]

In American and British universities, Atlantic World history is supplementing (and possibly supplanting) the study of specific European colonial societies in the Americas, e.g. British North America or Spanish America. Atlantic world history differs from traditional approaches to the history of colonization in its emphasis on inter-regional and international comparisons and its attention to events and trends that transcended national borders. Atlantic world history also emphasizes how the colonization of the Americas reshaped Africa and Europe.

ee also

* Atlantic History
* Age of Discovery
* Naval history
* Global empire
* Albion's Seed
* Atlantic slave trade
* Atlantic Revolutions
* Colonial America
* New France
* New Netherland
* New Spain


Further reading

*cite book|last= Ankerl |first= Guy |title= Global communication without universal civilization |origdate= |origyear= 2000 |series= INU societal research |volume= Vol.1: Coexisting contemporary civilizations : Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western |publisher= INU Press |location= Geneva |isbn= 2-88155-004-5 |pages=
* Bailyn, Bernard. "Atlantic History: Concept and Contours." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005.
* Egerton, Douglas, Alison Games, Kris Lane, and Donald R. Wright. "The Atlantic World: A History, 1400-1888." Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, 2007.
* Seed, Patricia. "Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640." New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
* Taylor, Alan. "American Colonies." New York: Viking, 2001.
* Thornton, John. "Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 199

External links

* [ Atlantic History Seminar, Harvard University]
* [ The Atlantic World: America and the Netherlands, sponsored by the Library of Congress]

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