Atlantic history

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Atlantic History is a major new topic in history that came of age after 2000, after emerging in the 1980s under the impetus of American historians Bernard Bailyn of Harvard University and Jack Greene of Johns Hopkins University. Bailyn in particular was a conservative and he shifted the concerns of historians away from a radical perspective. The Theme of Atlantic history is the complex interaction between Europe (especially Britain and France) and the New World colonies. It encompasses a wide range of demographic, social, economic, political, legal, military, intellectual and religious topics treated in comparative fashion by looking at both sides of the Atlantic. Much attention is given to religious revivals in Britain and Germany, as well as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. Migration and slavery have been important topics. The integration of the European Union and the continuing importance of NATO played an indirect role in stimulating interest.[1]


Bailyn's Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World promoted social and demographic studies, and especially regarding demographic flows of population into colonial America. As a leading advocate of the history of the Atlantic world, Bailyn has organized an annual international seminar at Harvard designed to promote scholarship in this field.[2] Bailyn's Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours (2005) explores the borders and contents of the emerging field, which emphasizes cosmopolitan and multicultural elements that have tended to be neglected or considered in isolation by traditional historiography dealing with the Americas. This discipline integrates themes and topics that show the interrelationships between peoples, institutions, and events in Europe, Africa, and the New World. Bailyn's reflections stem in part from his seminar at Harvard since the mid-1980s.

Greene directed a program at Johns Hopkins in Atlantic History from 1972 to 1992 that has now expanded to global cncerns.


Games (2006) explores the convergence of the multiple strands of scholarly interest that have generated the new field of Atlantic history, which takes as its geographic unit of analysis the Atlantic Ocean and the four continents that surround it. She argues Atlantic history is best approached as a slice of world history. The Atlantic, moreover, is a region that has logic as a unit of historical analysis only within a limited chronology. An Atlantic perspective can help historians understand changes within the region that a more limited geographic framework might obscure. Attempts to write a Braudelian[3] Atlantic history, one that includes and connects the entire region, remain elusive, driven in part by methodological impediments, by the real disjunctions that characterized the Atlantic's historical and geographic components, by the disciplinary divisions that discourage historians from speaking to and writing for each other, and by the challenge of finding a vantage point that is not rooted in any single place.[4]

Colonial studies

One impetus for Atlantic studies began with the historians of slavery who started tracking the flows of slaves from Africa to the New World in the 1960s.[5] A second source came from historians of colonial America. Many were trained in early modern European history and were familiar with the historiography regarding England and the British Empire., which had been introduced a century before by G.L. Beer and Charles McLean Andrews. Colonialists have long been open to interdisciplinary perspectives, such as comparative approaches. In addition there was a frustration involved in writing about very few people in a small remote colony. Atlantic history opens the horizon to large forces at work over great distances.[6]


Some critics have complained that it is little more than imperial history under another name. Others argue that it is simultaneously too big (pretending to subsume the southern Atlantic continents, Africa and Latin America, without seriously engaging with them) and too small (arbitrarily isolating the Atlantic from other bodies of water).

Christie (2009), a Canadian scholar, argues that Atlantic history will tend to draw students beyond their national myths, while offering historical support for such policies as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the Organization of American States, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the New Europe, Christendom, and even the United Nations. He concludes, "The early modern Atlantic can even be read as a natural antechamber for American‐led globalization of capitalism and serve as an historical challenge to the coalescing New Europe. No wonder that the academic reception of the new Atlantic history has been enthusiastic in the United States, and less so in Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, where histories of national Atlantic empires continue to thrive."[7]

See also


  • Armitage, David, and Michael J. Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (2002); see especially the lead article by Armitage, "Three Concepts of Atlantic History."
  • Bailyn, Bernard. Voyagers to the West: a passage in the peopling of America on the eve of the Revolution (1986), winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History
  • Bailyn, Bernard. Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (2005). online excerpts
  • Bodle, Wayne. "Atlantic History Is the New 'New Social History.'" William and Mary Quarterly 2007 64(1): 203-220. Issn: 0043-5597 Fulltext: History Cooperative
  • Curtin, Philip D. The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (1998) excerpt and text search
  • Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (2000).
  • Games, Alison. "Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities." American Historical Review 2006 111(3): 741-757. Issn: 0002-8762 Fulltext: History Cooperative
  • Gould, Eliga H. and Peter S. Onuf, eds. Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 391 pages. excerpt and text search
  • Gould, Eliga H. "Entangled Atlantic Histories: A Response from the Anglo-American Periphery," The American Historical Review, 112:1415–1422, December 2007 online edition
  • Greene, Jack D., and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (2008), 384pp; essays by major scholars. excerpt and text search
  • Hancock, David. Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785 (1995)
  • Land, Isaac. "Tidal Waves: the New Coastal History:" Journal of Social History 2007 40(3): 731-743. Issn: 0022-4529 Fulltext: History Cooperative and Project Muse
  • Mancke, Elizabeth, and Carole Shammas, eds. The Creation of the British Atlantic World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 408 pages. excerpt and text search
  • Offutt, William M. The Creation of the British Atlantic World
  • Olwell, Robert, and Alan Tully, eds. Cultures and Identities in Colonial British America. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 394 pages.
  • O'Reilly, William. "Genealogies of Atlantic History," Atlantic Studies 1 (2004): 66–84.
  • Steele, Ian K. "Bernard Bailyn's American Atlantic." History and Theory 2007 46(1): 48-58. Issn: 0018-2656 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 (2nd ed., 1998)
  • Wilson, Kathleen, ed. A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire 2004. 385 pp.


  1. O'Reilly, (2004)
  2. See
  3. A reference to the great classic, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (2 vol 1949) by Fernand Braudel (1902-1985).
  4. Games (2006)
  5. Curtin 91998
  6. Games (2006)
  7. Ian Christie, "Featured Reviews" in American Historical Review (Dec 2009) v.114#5 pp. 1405-7

See also

External links