Atlantic History Native Americans and the Atlantic World
by
James Taylor Carson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0125

Introduction

The Atlantic World is an historical concept that frames the histories of Europe, Africa, and the Americas from the opening of the age of European exploration to the ending of the American wars for independence in the 1820s. It emerged as an idea in the midst of World War II as a way to conceptualize the military and cultural alliance that had bound Great Britain and the United States through both world wars. To be sure, earlier historians of empire, exploration, and conquest had examined many of the issues that would later characterize Atlantic World scholarship, but they wrote in the absence of an overarching framework and instead focused mainly on the flow of people, ideas, and goods from Europe to the Americas with little to no consideration of how such flows affected indigenous and African societies and how they reverberated back across the Atlantic. The exigencies of World War II, however, required new ways of thinking about the nations that clung to the eastern and western edges of the Atlantic—“the inland sea of Western Civilization,” as it was known in academic circles—against the collective might of Fascist Europe. After the war, colonial historians pulled the Atlantic World model away from government policy makers and international diplomats and applied it to a series of important studies of the Chesapeake Bay region, Puritan New England, and Spanish Mexico. The rise of the study of slavery in the 1960s and 1970s further augmented such earlier works and expanded the notion of what exactly a colonial society was. Later developments in African history afforded links between colonies and that continent such that the map of the Atlantic World expanded to include the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Congo, and the Bight of Benin. More recently, as scholars followed the paths blazed by colonial trade and chattel slavery, they uncovered the ways in which North America’s first peoples interacted with the Atlantic World, how their lives changed as a consequence of Christopher Columbus’s landfall in the Caribbean, and how, in their turn, they shaped the contours of this new and expanding world. Dependence on trade goods, the ravages of epidemic diseases, indigenous efforts to counter both the growth of colonies and the devastation wrought by the trade in enslaved first peoples constitute major areas of investigation that have clearly shown the level of engagement first peoples had with Africans and Europeans through their membership in the Atlantic World.

General Overviews

Current scholarship on the Atlantic World tends to focus on the European and African components of the Atlantic World, and essay collections offer an accessible way to delve into the multiple research agendas and questions that characterize this rapidly growing field. Armitage and Braddick 2009 grew out of a series of papers delivered at the 2001 Harvard University International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, a seminar that emerged as an important incubator for scholarship in the field. Greene and Morgan 2009 present essays that focus more on synthesizing the field than on the specific topics that characterize Armitage and Braddick 2009. Bailyn 2005 steps back from the specific concerns of historical research to ponder instead both the origins and the future of the field in an elegant and accessible set of essays that ground the field in reference to changes in American politics, historical practice, and notions of multiculturality. Thornton 1998 establishes Africa as a constituent corner of the Atlantic World and challenges the European focus that had characterized much of the scholarship. Egerton, et al. 2007 and Shannon 2004 build on the European and African strands of scholarship while incorporating first peoples as well in their textbook approaches to the Atlantic World. Shannon 2004 is shorter and more thematic than Egerton, et al. 2007 because the latter strives for a more comprehensive and expansive consideration of both the scope and timeframe of the Atlantic World. Weaver 2014 draws such themes together in the first book-length treatment of Native Americans’ participation within and contributions to the broader Atlantic world from first encounters with the Norse to their impact on popular culture and imagery. In conjunction with Gilroy 1993 and Thornton 1998, such books have established that people from America, Africa, and Europe together created the Atlantic world.

  • Armitage, David, and Michael J. Braddick, eds. The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Essays from 2001 that demonstrate the potential of the Atlantic approach to the study of history and that were intended to inform similar studies of the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Dutch empires, but that touch only tangentially on Native American topics.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. Atlantic History: Concept and Contours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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    A thoughtful and elegant consideration of the idea of the Atlantic World that charts future prospects for the field of study while also recollecting the origins of the approach.

  • Egerton, Douglas R., Alison Games, Jane G. Landers, Kris Lane, and Donald R. Wright. The Atlantic World: A History, 1400–1888. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2007.

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    Comprehensive textbook that brings together the history of Europe, Africa, and native North America with a focus on the cultural mixtures that followed the founding of European colonies and the trade in slaves and commodities.

  • Gilroy, Paul. Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. New York: Verso, 1993.

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    First major contribution to Atlantic history that departed from the usual focus on Europe. Gilroy argued that a black consciousness transcended Africa and the Americas and linked people across the entire Atlantic world in a diaspora that shared certain common cultural features and a national sense of self.

  • Greene, Jack P., and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Significant collection of essays that synthesize extant scholarship on the various European empires, Native Americans, and Africans, and that offer reconsiderations of the field from a variety of perspectives.

  • Shannon, Timothy J. Atlantic Lives: A Comparative Approach to Early America. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004.

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    One of the first textbooks on Atlantic World history that draws together disparate scholarship to tell a cogent story of the collision between European, African, and Native American peoples until the end of the American wars of independence in the 1820s.

  • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511800276E-mail Citation »

    First book to summarize and develop the human history of Africa as it relates to the African slave trade and the influence of African cultures on the development of the various colonial societies in the Americas.

  • Weaver, Jace. Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000–1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first synthesis of Native American Atlantic world history. It explores such central themes as disease, enslavement, diplomacy and politics, and popular culture.

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