In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Northern Europe and the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Historiographical Debates
  • Chartered Companies
  • The Slave Trade
  • Abolition
  • Trading Establishments in West Africa
  • The Danish West Indies
  • Swedish St. Barthélemy
  • New Sweden
  • Commerce and Consumption

Atlantic History Northern Europe and the Atlantic World
Gunvor Simonsen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0129


The engagement of northern European states and peoples in the Atlantic world has received little and uneven attention. There are several reasons for this. First, northern European states did not experience the postwar migration from their former colonies that the larger Atlantic empires did. Consequently, the demand of descendants of colonial subjects to reconcile this past with their present was not a pressing political issue in northern Europe. Second, scholarly institutions in northern Europe have not provided institutional support for the development of a coherent tradition of Atlantic history. Instead, research has come in waves, depending on the interest of individual historians. This irregular attention may in turn be connected to political developments in the 19th century. Denmark, for instance, lost much of its European territory during this period. The national self-understanding that resulted from this history of territorial shrinkage was one of a small, peaceful, and homogenous state, inconsistent with the involvement of the Danish state and Danes in the slave trade and slavery. In different ways but with a similar result, Sweden, Finland, and Norway have developed national narratives in which their engagement in the Atlantic world has been insignificant. A third reason for this relatively minor interest in the Atlantic world has to do with northern Europe’s early abandonment of Atlantic possessions, which inevitably influences the way historians of former colonies and settlements approach this element of the past. The historical record is often written in marginal Scandinavian languages that are linguistically obsolete in the areas formerly colonized. More important, the Atlantic colonies of northern Europe were, with the exception of the Danish West Indies, incorporated into larger European empires. This has meant that the history of the small colonies of northern Europe often appears unimportant by comparison to the larger, later imperial histories of other parts of the Atlantic world. In general, the historical and scholarly developments outlined here explain why the historiography of northern Europe and the Atlantic world cannot be characterized as an integrated field in which different interpretations coexist and compete. Rather, historical studies have relied on international trends in colonial history and, more recently, in Atlantic history for interpretative models and frameworks.

Reference Works and Bibliographies

There are few specific reference works and bibliographies on the study of northern Europe and the Atlantic world. The best research method is therefore to track references in the notes of reliable works in the field. For research produced by northern European scholars, there is also the digitalized national historical bibliographies for Denmark, Dansk Historisk Bibliografi; for Norway, Norsk Historisk Bibliografi; for Sweden, Svensk Historisk Bibliografi; and for Finland, Fennica. Moreover, literature concerning the Danish West Indies is presented in Highfield and Tyson 1994 and by the website Virgin Island History, which also introduces archival sources concerning the Danish West Indies and West Africa. The comprehensive bibliography in Justesen 2005 is the best place to begin locating literature about Danish trade and settlement in West Africa. Information on the colony of New Sweden as well as the later Swedish presence in North America can be found in the annual bibliographies of the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly. The website Mémoire St Barth provides a fairly comprehensive bibliography on diverse aspects of the history of St. Barthélemy.

  • Dansk Historisk Bibliografi.

    Contains work in Danish and other languages concerning Danish history (in a wide sense) from the Viking age to the present. It covers the periods 1831–1947, 1967–1976, and 1990 onward.

  • Fennica.

    Contains references to publications printed in Finnish and other material relating to Finland. Books and periodicals date back to 1488. Articles can be found in Arto, which indexes Finnish journals from 1990 on. For earlier references, one must consult the published Finnish historical bibliographies (see Suomen historiallinen bibliografia, Suomen historiallinen seura, 1940–1992) that cover the period 1544–1990.

  • Highfield, Arnold R., and George F. Tyson. Slavery in the Danish West Indies: A Bibliography. St. Croix: Virgin Islands Humanities Council, 1994.

    A comprehensive bibliography organized thematically. The bibliography complements Virgin Islands History. In particular the listing of contemporary printed material and references to early unpublished work is valuable.

  • Justesen, Ole, ed. Danish Sources for the History of Ghana, 1657–1754. 2 vols. Translated by James Manley. Fontes Historiae Africanae 8.2. Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2005.

    Instead of an actual bibliography, this work contains in Volume 2 a thorough list of literature about the Danish presence on the Gold Coast and encounters with West African societies during the precolonial period. The work also contains illustrative maps. Volume 1 spans the years 1657–1754; Volume 2 the years 1735–1754.

  • Mémoire St Barth.

    A site in French containing entries on the history of St. Barthélemy. The site provides a bibliography covering the history of the island and introductions to archival holdings (in France and Sweden) about the period of Swedish rule.

  • Norsk Historisk Bibliografi.

    Contains work about Norway’s history in Norwegian and other languages published between 1980 and 1997. Earlier work must be sought in the published bibliographies that go back to 1916. For the later periods, material can be located through the national databases for articles and books, both available to subscribers only.

  • Svensk Historisk Bibliografi.

    Contains work in Swedish and other languages. The focus is, as the title implies, Swedish history (in a wide sense) from the Viking age to the present. It covers the period 1977 onward. Earlier work must be sought in the published bibliographies (see Svensk historisk bibliografi: Systematisk förteckning över skrifter och uppsatser som röra Sveriges historia, Svenska historika föreningen, 1937–1985) that cover the period 1771–1976.

  • Swedish-American Historical Quarterly.

    Has issued annual bibliographies since 1978. These contain a wide range of entries, some of which fall within the traditional bounds of Atlantic history. It is a good place to survey the state of research on Swedish North American history.

  • Virgin Islands History.

    Contains registers of the main record groups concerning the Danish West Indies (and the Gold Coast) in the Danish National Archives and bibliographical entries on major themes in Danish West Indian history. Does not cover literature published after 2002. The site is also published as Erik Gøbel, A Guide to Sources for the History of the Danish West Indies (U.S. Virgin Islands), 1671–1917 (Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2002).

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