In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Networks for Migrations and Mobility

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Imperial Networks
  • Communication Networks
  • Networks of Commercial Exchange
  • Diasporic Networks
  • Confraternal Networks
  • Catholic Networks
  • Protestant Networks
  • Scientific Networks

Atlantic History Networks for Migrations and Mobility
Jessica Harland-Jacobs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0191


Two themes are at the center of this bibliography: networks and mobility. Together they constitute the thread connecting the diverse selections cited in this article. A “network” is defined as an interconnected system that facilitates mobility and is composed of nodes, hubs, and linkages. Nodes are a network’s most basic members; they can be human beings, commodities, ideas, etc. Linkages are the relationships that connect the nodes. A concentration of nodes and linkages constitutes a hub. This bibliography considers an extensive number of networks that facilitated the movement of a wide range of members. Chronologically, the networks covered here were built and operated across the early modern and modern periods, although the 18th century emerges as a chronological focal point. Geographically, these networks operated across the Atlantic basin, not only within the “national Atlantics” of the Iberian, British, French, and Dutch zones but also at the intersections of these worlds. As will become evident, networks fostered transnational movements in ways that were difficult, if not impossible, for the nation-states and empires that comprised the Atlantic world. “Mobility” is also broadly defined, referring to both the movement of members across space and to social mobility. The networks examined here range in their levels of formality. Some were created by discrete, identifiable institutions, such as a church or a fraternity; others were less formal but nonetheless highly effective in facilitating mobility. The following sections include key works that examine imperial, communication, commercial, diasporic, migratory, fraternal, religious, and scientific networks. Taken together, these networks formed the matrix of connections and movements that brought the Atlantic world into being and made it a thriving zone of exchange and interchange for more than four centuries. The networks examined here shared many functional similarities—the importance of letter writing in lubricating network mechanisms, the role of self-organization in a network’s ability to expand and adapt, and the limitations on network functionality imposed by both internal and external forces. Also discussed in the following sections are the historical manifestations of Atlantic networks and the concept’s utility as a methodological and theoretical model. Many of the scholars cited in this article have used networks to pursue two challenging objectives: first, determining and examining the complex ways in which the local and the global intersect, and, second, striking an appropriate balance between interpretations that emphasize structural forces and those that focus on human agency.

General Overviews

Rarely does one come across a work in Atlantic history (whether or not it is explicitly conceptualized as an Atlantic project) that does not deploy the term “network.” Indeed, the mobility of people, goods, capital, ideas, and ideologies around and through the Atlantic basin and the networks that facilitated such movements are fundamental to the concept of Atlantic history itself. One of the first works to put forth the notion of a networked Atlantic is Gilroy 1993. More recently, several historians, including Bailyn 2005, Games 2006, and Bailyn and Denault 2009 identify networks as a major unifying theme of Atlantic history. Other historians explore the historiographical significance of Atlantic networks. Bailyn 2005 traces the origins of Atlantic history, as a practice, to the economic, political, and academic networks of the post–World War II world, whereas Armitage and Braddick 2009 describes Atlantic networks as providing a meaningful context for the practice of transnational, comparative history. Still others promote the methodological benefits of a networks-based approach and social network analysis. Cooper 2001 presents a thoughtful reflection on the relationship among networks, structures, and discourses. Hancock 2007 and Perl-Rosenthal and Haefeli 2012 offer sophisticated arguments in favor of systematically deploying the concept of networks to probe Atlantic history.

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

    Seminal collection of essays in Atlantic history. Networks are central to the editors’ conceptualization of the Atlantic world and the practice of Atlantic history. Networks “provide a meaningful context for comparative history: it is not an arbitrary creation of historical scholarship but corresponds to real networks of social, political, and economic connection in the past” (p. 3).

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

    Part 1 traces how historians in the post–World War II period began uncovering the economic and political networks of the Atlantic region and, in the process, gave shape to the nascent practice of Atlantic history. Part 2 presents the major themes in the history of the Atlantic world, using networks in the discussion of commerce, religious communities (e.g., the “elaborate transdynastic and transterritorial” networks of Protestants [p. 100]), and creoles.

  • Bailyn, Bernard, and Patricia L. Denault, eds. Soundings in Atlantic History: Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500–1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

    Edited collection of essays on a broad range of topics including the impact of the ecology on the slave trade, interimperial smuggling, the Atlantic lives of individuals, and the circulation of ideas. Networks figure centrally in chapters by David J. Hancock (chapter 3), J. Gabriel Martínez-Serna (chapter 5), Rosalind J. Beiler (chapter 6), and Mark A. Peterson (chapter 10), as well as in the Introduction, in which Bailyn reflects on the major themes of Atlantic history, including commercial networks, religious networks, and networks of scientific exchange.

  • Cooper, Frederick. “Networks, Moral Discourse, and History.” In Intervention and Transnationalism in Africa: Global-Local Networks of Power. Edited by Thomas M. Callaghy, Ronald Kassimir, and Robert Latham, 23–46. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558788.003

    Exploration of the relationship among structures, networks, and discourses to determine how attitudes toward slavery, colonialism, and apartheid changed over time. Includes a helpful reflection on networks and a definition of networks as “organizations which stress voluntary and reciprocal patterns of communication and exchange, which if not necessarily ‘horizontal’ are not fully controlled by vertical systems of authority” (p. 24).

  • Games, Alison. “Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities.” American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 741–757.

    DOI: 10.1086/ahr.111.3.741

    Wide-ranging historiographical assessment. After reviewing the challenges and shortcomings of Atlantic history, Games identifies the study of mobility (of people, commodities, ideas, etc.) as the field’s primary opportunity. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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

    Although not fully theorized, the idea of the network features prominently in Gilroy’s conceptualization of the Black Atlantic. Explores how networks of people and news connected blacks throughout the Atlantic basin. Cultural artifacts, such as Martin R. Delany’s novel Blake (Boston: Beacon, 1970), also “locate the Black Atlantic world in a webbed network, between the local and the global” (p. 29).

  • Hancock, David. “Combining Success and Failure: Scottish Networks in the Atlantic Wine Trade.” In Irish and Scottish Mercantile Networks in Europe and Overseas in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by David Dickson, Jan Parmentier, and Jane H. Ohlmeyer, 5–37. Ghent, Belgium: Academia, 2007.

    One of the few historical studies that deploys the concept of the network in a reflective and critical way (includes a useful section on the etymology of “network” and contemporary understandings of “correspondent” and “connection”). Notable for its attention to the failures as well as successes of networks in order to arrive at a richer understanding of early modern markets.

  • Perl-Rosenthal, Nathan, and Evan Haefeli. “Transnational Connections: Special Issue Introduction.” In Special Issue: Anglo-Dutch Revolutions. Edited by Nathan Perl-Rosenthal and Evan Haefeli. Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10.2 (Spring 2012): 227–238.

    DOI: 10.1353/eam.2012.0010

    Sophisticated deployment of networks as “a conceptual ground and unifying thread for writing transnational history” (p. 229). Analyzes various Atlantic networks in terms of their shape (large or small; dense or thin), the nature of their nodes, the quality of their linkages, and the effect of “noise” (friction that impeded the flow of nodes across linkages). Available online by subscription.

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