Atlantic History Native Americans and Africans
Linford D. Fisher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0285


The literature on Indians and Africans in the wider Atlantic world is extensive. Scholars have been writing about Africans and Natives for centuries, of course, although it was really in the early 20th century that scholars took the histories of both African Americans and the original inhabitants of the Americas more seriously. An entire journal was dedicated to African history, The Journal of Negro History, with the first volume published in 1916. The field of indigenous history did not develop quite so quickly, with the journal Ethnohistory only being established in 1954 (see section on Journals). The fields of Native American and African history both received a major stimulus with the rise of the New Social History in the 1970s. As scholars became more interested in the lives of people on the margins of society, and as older celebratory paradigms about the American past began to recede, a critical and engaged vein of scholarship emerged that began to more fully consider the long-term effects of colonization and the pernicious reaches of slavery, both as a set of localized practices and, later, more formally as an “institution.” Recent energy in the field has coalesced around Native and African scholars applying postcolonial and decolonizing methodologies to the various fields of history, anthropology, and literature. Although the scholarship on both Africans and Indians in the wider Atlantic is rich, it is rarely integrative. Many of books and resources listed below, then, consist of works that attempt to consider Africans and Indians together, as well as those that are mostly devoted to either Indians or Africans. The lived history was much more integrated than some of the present scholarship allows.

General Overviews

Rather appropriately, many of the Atlantic world and Caribbean history overviews self-consciously engage Native and African histories, placing them in the wider context of European colonization. The field of Atlantic history has prompted a flurry of larger-scale, trans-imperial histories of the Atlantic as a region, encompassing South, Central, and North America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Several of these overviews also demonstrate the widening of Atlantic history toward the global, including Cañizares-Esguerra and Seeman 2007. This trend is, in part, a recognition that trade, commerce, and the movement of and traffic in people and populations was truly global in nature, even in the 16th century. For Africa, see also Thornton 1998, cited under Africa.

  • Benjamin, Thomas. The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History, 1400–1900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    A superb introduction to the early modern Atlantic and the multiple empires, peoples, and cultures that clashed, cooperated, and coexisted. As the title indicates, a major focus is on the interactions of Natives, Africans, and Europeans. Although Indian and African histories are sometimes told side by side (instead of integratively), there are many points of intersection in the analysis, as seen in the chapter relating to “bondage,” where the author considers the reasons for the transition from Native to African slavery.

  • Bergad, Laird W. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. New Approaches to the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511803970

    This book contains solid comparative data and analysis between Brazil, Cuba, and the United States (and, to a lesser extent, colonial America) between the early 16th century and the 1880s, when slavery was finally abolished in Cuba and Brazil. The book focuses more on African slavery, although there is some early coverage of indigenous slavery, particularly in chapter 2.

  • Breen, Louise A., ed. Converging Worlds: Communities and Cultures in Colonial America. New York: Routledge, 2012.

    The focus of this collection of essays is on the many points of confluence, interactions, and convergence in colonial America and the early modern Atlantic. Although not specifically focused on Native and African interaction, many essays touch on this. The essays are clustered into four sections: “Beginnings,” “Regions,” “Themes,” and “Transformations.”

  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, and Erik R. Seeman, eds. The Atlantic in Global History, 1500–2000. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

    A relatively short series of fifteen essays that try to understand multiple “Atlantics” as well as situate the Atlantic world in a wider, global context.

  • Canny, Nicholas P., and Philip D. Morgan, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World, 1450–1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Thirty-seven essays by leading scholars lay out the emergence, flourishing, and disintegration of integrated Atlantic economies and cultures as defined by the wide-ranging European, African, and Indian cultures. Specific essays on African and Indian histories are particularly relevant.

  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. New York: Verso, 1993.

    Gilroy’s classic book argues for the formation of a modern cultural-political space that is a hybrid of African, American, Caribbean, and British cultures all at once. Using black authors, musicians, and artists as examples, Gilroy suggests that the experiences of the Middle Passage, plantation slavery, and the bumpy road of post-emancipation life have influenced this cultural production, but in a way that transcends national and ethnic boundaries.

  • Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. The Atlantic in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A brief, accessible survey of the meaning of the Atlantic, its parameters and participants, and its relation to a wider, global history. Covers Indians and Africans as a matter of course, but is not specifically focused on the points of intersection.

  • Miller, Joseph C., ed. The Princeton Companion to Atlantic History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

    This volume is another fantastic overview of thirty years of scholarship on the Atlantic world. Its unique organization makes it stand out: Part One provides a brief overview of Atlantic history by century, from the 16th through 19th centuries, written by four different scholars. Part Two contains alphabetical entries on a wide variety of topics, touching on themes like the movements of people, technologies and science, and cultures and communities.

  • Nash, Gary B. Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014.

    Originally published in 1970, this is a classic work in colonial American history. By understanding early America through a triracial lens, Nash forcefully inserts Africans and Indians into the earliest founding moments of colonization. Although less centered on the Atlantic, it still provides a helpful starting point for thinking about the intersection of races and cultures in early America.

  • Weaver, Jace. The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000–1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

    An interdisciplinary survey that tries to place Natives and Indian mobility at the forefront of North American and Atlantic history. Intended as a parallel to Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993), but Weaver’s book is more about Natives who crossed the Atlantic than it is about the way Native presence changes how we think about the Atlantic itself.

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