In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Atlantic Trade and the European Economy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Ports and Atlantic Trade
  • Atlantic Demand for European Goods
  • European Demand for Atlantic Goods

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Atlantic History Atlantic Trade and the European Economy
Guillaume Daudin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0091


Most European intercontinental trade passed through the Atlantic during the Early Modern period, with the exception of Mediterranean trade and caravan trade through the Eurasian landmass, both in relative decline. Both the rise to primacy of the European economy and the increase in Atlantic trade have been momentous events in the history of the world. The temptation to link these two events has been very high in both popular and scholarly history since the 19th century. The debate about their relationship is not yet settled, because there is no general agreement on either the causes and characteristics of the divergence of Europe from other Old World economies or the benefits that intercontinental trade have provided to European economies. This bibliography provides sources that discuss the effect of Atlantic trade on European economies. Consideration of Europe as a whole is probably misleading in that every country—and probably every region—had a specific interaction with the Atlantic. This entry provides readings on the experience in Britain, Denmark-Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and Spain. The experience of Britain is so important to the history of the European economy that this entry would not be complete without some readings on the effect of the Atlantic trade on the British Industrial Revolution.

General Overviews

Acemoglu, et al. 2005 has convinced many economists that Atlantic trade was an important catalyst of economic growth in Early Modern Europe. Few studies provide an overview of the whole European experience with Atlantic trade. Braudel 1992 and Wallerstein 1974–2001 are two meta-narratives of European growth and its relation with the rest of the world that are more impressive as descriptive works than as analyses. Findlay and O’Rourke 2007 is a good recent synthesis that can be used as a starting point to the rest of the literature. Emmer, et al. 2006 gathers different sources that provide good starting points for the study of each country’s experience. O’Brien and Prados de la Escosura 1998 did the same over a longer time period. This collection of papers is more focused, but does not treat the Scandinavian countries. Socolow 1996 and Black 2006 are reprint collections of important papers on, respectively, the slave trade and the other trades in the Atlantic. Magnusson 2008 is a useful collection of 17th- and 18th-century mercantilist texts arguing for the importance of trade for the prosperity of European economies.

  • Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson. “The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change and Economic Growth.” American Economic Review 95.3 (2005): 546–579.

    DOI: 10.1257/0002828054201305

    Provides an econometric test to the hypothesis that Atlantic trade was important for European growth because it encouraged the rise of good institutions in countries where initial institutions were good enough.

  • Black, Jeremy, ed. The Atlantic Slave Trade. 4 vols. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

    The four volumes gather reprints of numerous articles on Atlantic slave trade in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century, respectively. Most articles, dating from 1940 to 2004, are available online, but the selection work is very valuable.

  • Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

    Each volume treats one of three levels of economic activity: material life (routine activities of consumption and production, e.g., new consumption goods coming from Atlantic trade), market economy (exchange activities where market rules prevail: focus is on profits from Atlantic trade), and capitalism (large-scale exchange activities dominated by politics, monopolies, and high profits: focus is on the history of the European Atlantic expansion). The book argues that colonial trade and Atlantic trade are central to the development of capitalism in the world economy.

  • Emmer, Pieter, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, and Jessica Roitman, eds. A Deus Ex Machina Revisited: Atlantic Colonial Trade and European Economic Development. Atlantic World 8. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

    Provides a thorough approach vis-à-vis the role of Atlantic trade in Europe, including both articles on specific countries (Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain, France, Denmark-Norway, and Sweden) and more general articles, e.g., about the statistics of colonial trade and its importance in meta-narratives of the Great Divergence.

  • Findlay, Ronald, and Kevin H. O’Rourke. Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. Princeton Economic History of the Western World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    A very interesting general work on world trade and its economic role from 1000 to now. Chapters 4 to 7 cover trade with the New World and its effect on Europe up to the 19th century, with specific discussion about the flow of species, mercantilism, and the relationship between trade and the British Industrial Revolution.

  • Magnusson, Lars, ed. Mercantilist Theory and Practice: The History of British Mercantilism. 4 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2008.

    A collection of facsimile texts from the 17th and 18th centuries along with editorial comments. Volumes 2 and 3 (Foreign Trade: Regulation and Practice, and The Colonial System) provide texts discussing the advantages of Atlantic trade for the prosperity of European nations. It is too bad that no equivalent source exists for other countries.

  • O’Brien, Patrick K., and Leandro Prados de la Escosura, eds. Special issue: The Costs and Benefits of European Imperialism from the Conquest of Ceuta, 1415, to the Treaty of Lusaka, 1974. La Revista de Historia Económica 16.1: 1998.

    Collection of articles prepared for the Session AI, Twelfth International Economic History Congress, Madrid, 24–28 August 1998, along with a long and interesting introduction by the editors. Covers much of Europe, except for the Scandinavian countries. Available online to subscribers.

  • Socolow, Susan M., ed. Atlantic Staple Trade. 2 vols. Expanding World 9. Aldershot, UK: Variorum, 1996.

    The first volume gathers reprints on commerce and politics (especially the trade competition between the different actors of the Atlantic economy). The second volume gathers case studies of staple and luxury trade (e.g., logwood, rice, tobacco, cochineal).

  • Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System. 3 vols. Studies in Social Discontinuity. New York: Academic Press, 1974–2001.

    The first volume treats the 16th century, the second one the mercantilist era (1600–1750), and the last one the Industrial Revolution. The main thesis is that the central place of Europe in the “modern world system” and its relations with the periphery are at the center of its successful economic divergence.

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