In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Black Atlantic in the Age of Revolutions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Surveys
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Manuscript Guides
  • Autobiographies
  • Firsthand Accounts
  • Document Collections
  • Defining the Black Atlantic
  • Diaspora Studies
  • Ethnicity and Identity
  • Biographies
  • Literary Treatments
  • Cultural Impact

Atlantic History The Black Atlantic in the Age of Revolutions
Roderick McDonald, Michelle Craig McDonald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0009


Between 1630 and 1780 at least five Africans landed in Britain’s Atlantic empire for every two Europeans, and between 1700 and 1780 the ratio increased to 4 to 1. Such demographics gave shape to a Black Atlantic world during the age of revolutions and established the history of the nearly twelve million Africans who crossed the Atlantic Ocean between the 16th and the 19th centuries as central to the field of Atlantic history. Whereas early Black Atlantic studies tended to focus on the economic and demographic importance of the African diaspora to the Atlantic’s northern and western shores, with some attention to slave rebellion, more recent studies have considered the cultural impact of African community and family structures, language and artistic expression, labor, and resistance. Black Atlantic history finds analytic strength in its separation from national historiographies, for while transatlantic perspectives on colonialism, imperialism, and slavery still rely more on frameworks bounded by European states and nations, Black Atlantic scholarship crosses British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish boundaries in understanding the complex history of Africans and their descendants within a broader Atlantic context.

General Overviews

The earliest Black Atlantic studies focused on the Atlantic slave trade, plantation economies, and slave rebellion. Over the last two decades, however, the field has broadened considerably to explore a diverse range of issues, such as the construction of social and family structures, gender relations, and cultural retention and creolization. Gilroy 1993 remains the standard against which subsequent definitions and analyses of the Black Atlantic are measured. Roach 1996 poses the most direct challenge to Gilroy’s model, arguing that the concept of the Black Atlantic originated in European conceptions of race well before the Atlantic slave trade. Other authors endeavor to apply a Black Atlantic model rather than debate its definition. Walvin 2000, for example, explores the role of Britain in the slave trade and subsequent diaspora, while the edited collections Solow 1991 and Hine and McLeod 1999 provide excellent comparative case studies of the experiences of black peoples in various locations throughout the Americas. Finally, Hamilton 2006 and Azevedo 2005 focus on the impact of the diaspora from an African perspective, while Smallwood 2008 uses the transatlantic slave trade to understand how both European and African influences came together to create a Black Atlantic world.

  • Azevedo, Mario, ed. Africana Studies: A Survey of Africa and the African Diaspora. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2005.

    First published in 1993. Divided into five parts that cover the state of Africana studies, the evolution of black history, the contributions of black peoples, the present and future status of diaspora peoples, and the societies and values of the Black Atlantic. Includes a thorough chronology of events and several useful maps.

  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

    The Black Atlantic, which Gilroy separates from Anglo-Atlantic and African American studies, produced a double consciousness shaped by the slave trade, slavery, and developing racial ideologies as well as a shifting cultural identity unfettered by nation or empire.

  • Hamilton, Ruth Simms. Routes of Passage: Rethinking the African Diaspora. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2006.

    This broad introduction contains essays on migration and relationships between Africa and the various sites of its diaspora. Strong on class, gender, nationality, race issues, and the global perspective.

  • Hine, Darlene Clark, and Jacqueline McLeod, eds. Crossing Boundaries: Comparative History of Black People in Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

    Useful essays on identity and culture, domination, and resistance from a social history perspective, with a particularly strong introduction comparing the historiographies of various Atlantic diaspora studies.

  • Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    A reinterpretation of Paul Gilroy’s conception of the Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993) through an examination of performance, especially in London and New Orleans, that draws extensively on literary theory and integrates literature, theater history, and cultural studies to explain past and present constructions of race, class, gender, and power.

  • Smallwood, Stephanie E. Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

    A fine study that uses both Ghanaian oral tradition and rare English-language source material, especially from the Royal African Company, to examine the impact of the Atlantic slave trade’s Middle Passage on cultural retention. Effectively focuses on a more limited cohort to provide nuance and detail to the experiences of the enslaved.

  • Solow, Barbara L., ed. Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    An excellent collection of thematic essays on slavery’s significance to Atlantic economic development that offers a good comparative framework, with chapters on Holland, Portugal, Britain, Africa, and France.

  • Walvin, James. Making of the Black Atlantic: Britain and the African Diaspora. London and New York: Cassell, 2000.

    Posits the centrality of British participation in the Atlantic slave trade and examines how Africans shaped the Atlantic world through trade, labor and plantation structures, emancipation, and even 20th-century identity and racism. A concise study suitable for an undergraduate Atlantic history course.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.