In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Atlantic Ocean and India

  • Introduction
  • Collaborations
  • Journals
  • The Indian Ocean World
  • Colonial India
  • Seafaring, Shipping, and Navigation
  • Free and Forced Migration
  • Commerce, Commodities, and Finance
  • Mines, Metals, and Gems
  • Exploration, Geography, and Science
  • Law, Sovereignty, and Political Thought
  • The Portuguese
  • The Dutch and Northern Europe
  • The French
  • The United States

Atlantic History The Atlantic Ocean and India
Philip Stern
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0215


Growing interest in world, global, and what Subrahmanyam 2007 (cited under Portuguese) calls “connected histories” have increasingly led historians to query the permeable and imprecise boundaries of the Atlantic, and to consider its relationship with the rest of the world. As European ships, goods, people, and ideas were increasingly diffused around the world, jurisdictional boundaries failed to hew neatly to arbitrary divisions between the seas and oceans, while itinerants, merchants, and pirates alike similarly defined their own economic, political, and social worlds in the space between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Though there is a long tradition of historiography that has understood the way Atlantic and Indian empires have comingled in the metropolitan markets of Europe, historians have also come to more direct connections between the Atlantic and India along the “webs” of empire (see Games 2008, cited under British: Imperial and Global Connections), from the earliest European efforts to find various maritime routes to Asia via the Atlantic through the diffusion of Spanish American silver in South Asian markets to the late 18th-century dumping of English East India Company tea into Boston Harbor. For some, the recognition of the interfluvial nature of the oceans has increasingly become the framework for a methodological critique of Atlantic history itself; for others, it has opened up a wealth of new subjects and possibilities for enhancing our understanding of the nature of the early modern Atlantic world. In this spirit, and given the somewhat diffuse nature of this particular subject, the emphasis in this bibliography is on a sampling of different perspectives and approaches that scholars have used to pursue the historical or historiographical relationships between the Atlantic world and South Asia, directly and often self-consciously, in whole or in part. It is also delimited quite specifically to the early modern Atlantic and India, though at times it inevitably hints at work on the Indian Ocean writ large as well as the great interest, particularly in economic history, in Atlantic empires and East Asia. As such, the list below is intended simply to suggest a variety of overlapping points of entry for scholars who are interested in exploring the various consequences for Atlantic history, when considering comparisons, connections, and ramifications of the worlds beyond its borders, and specifically with India.

Methodological Overviews

As no coherent field of study of “The Atlantic world and India” exists as such, some of the strongest and most comprehensive treatments of that subject have come in the form of conceptual and programmatic proposals. Canny 2003; Coclanis 2002; Games, et al. 2006; and Benton 2009 represent the ways in which these connections have been raised to varying degrees as a cautionary critique of the field of Atlantic history, often from the vantage of global or world history, while still (for some more than others) reinforcing the value of the Atlantic as a zone of study. Though brief in its proposal, Lawson 1986 suggests ways in which the concept of “Greater Britain” (articulated in Seeley 1883), which has formed one historiographical foundation of Atlantic historiography, could be extended to India, especially with regard to 18th-century British Parliamentary politics. Zagarri 2011 offers an historiographical review of recent efforts to connect early US history to India, while also suggesting fruitful avenues for future study. Lewis 1999 approaches the problem from a quite different perspective, showing in striking ways how the divisions among the seas and oceans are a consequence of modern conceptions of geographical space, rather than any reflection of the natural, human, or institutional histories that take place upon and between them. For further meditations on the subject, one could also see the various introductions and selected methodological essays found elsewhere in this bibliography, especially the introductions to Armitage and Subrahmanyam 2010 and Bowen, et al. 2012 (both cited under Collaborations), as well as Bowen’s article “Britain in the Indian Ocean Region and Beyond,” in Bowen, et al. 2012 (cited under Collaborations).

  • Benton, Lauren. “The British Atlantic in Global Context.” In The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800. 2d ed. Edited by David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick, 271–289. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    An addition to the second edition of this volume, this essay seeks to debunk many “common generalizations” about the divisions between early modern Atlantic enterprises and those elsewhere, especially in the Indian Ocean. Provides a brisk overview both of metropolitan connections—for example, investors and colonial promoters involved in various enterprises—as well as the global economic, political, and intellectual forces and processes that shaped both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds.

  • Canny, Nicholas. “Asia, the Atlantic and the Subjects of the British Monarchy.” In A Companion to Stuart Britain. Edited by Barry Coward, 45–66. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470998908

    A survey of 17th-century overseas commerce and colonization in both British and global perspective. As in a number of Canny’s various other articles and essays on this issue (as in Greene and Morgan 2009, cited under Collaborations), makes a case for situating the overseas British experience in a global context, while still arguing for the value and coherence of Atlantic history.

  • Coclanis, Peter A. “Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History.” Journal of World History 13.1 (2002): 169–182.

    DOI: 10.1353/jwh.2002.0005

    A provocative critique of Atlantic history focused particularly, though not exclusively, on Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn’s formulation of the field. Though it does not address South Asia specifically, the essay cites a variety of connections between the Atlantic and both territorial and maritime Eurasia in its call for “greater scholarly cosmopolitanism.” See also Coclanis’s essays in Games, et al. 2006 and Greene and Morgan 2009 (the latter cited under Collaborations).

  • Games, Alison, Paul Mapp, Philip J. Stern, and Peter Coclanis. “Forum: Beyond the Atlantic.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 63.4 (2006): 675–742.

    Forum in the leading journal of colonial American history that explores a variety of ways in which Atlantic history might be opened up to larger, continental, oceanic, and global perspectives.

  • Lawson, Philip. “The Missing Link: The Imperial Dimension in Understanding Hanoverian Britain.” Historical Journal 29.3 (1986): 747–751.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0018246X00019014

    A brief but strong call-to-arms for recognizing the equal if not greater relevance of India issues in defining British Parliamentary politics in the later 18th century, when compared with Atlantic concerns and specifically the American Revolution. See also Lawson 1997 (cited under British: A Swing to the East?).

  • Lewis, Martin W. “Dividing the Ocean Sea.” Geographical Review 89.2 (1999): 188–214.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.1999.tb00213.x

    Historicizes the divisions among the oceans, identifying the four-ocean model as a product of 19th- and 20th-century geography and politics. Calls for new connections and perspectives on the relationship among the oceans by rethinking our received and perceived notions of the compartmentalization of oceanic space. Part of a special issue of the Geographical Review on “Oceans Connect,” many of the other essays in which are also germane to the subject of this bibliography.

  • Seeley, J. R. The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures. London: Macmillan, 1883.

    Though Seeley himself saw the Atlantic and Indian imperial experiences as fundamentally distinct, his now famous call-to-arms that “the history of England” was to be found “not in England but in America and Asia” can serve as a starting point for investigating the connections between the two. Recovery of Seeley’s late-19th-century concept of “Greater Britain” has served for many as a theoretical foundation for exploring connections between empire and English history.

  • Zagarri, Rosemarie. “The Significance of the ‘Global Turn’ for the Early American Republic: Globalization in the Age of Nation-Building.” Journal of the Early Republic 31.1 (2011): 1–37.

    DOI: 10.1353/jer/2011.0014

    Looks at recent developments in the “Global Turn” in the field of early American history after the Revolution. Highlights three modes of connecting British India with the early Republic: movement of people, ideas, and things; missionary activity; and a comparative history of how early-19th-century British and American regimes treated the problem of race.

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