Atlantic History Atlantic History and Hemispheric History
Eric Hinderaker, Rebecca Horn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0306


Atlantic history and hemispheric history overlap yet remain distinct. Atlantic history concerns the profound and enduring connections formed after 1492 between the world regions that border the Atlantic Ocean—Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Hemispheric history shifts the focus decidedly westward to encompass the entire western hemisphere, including but not limited to those regions of the Americas colonized by European powers and directly integrated into the Atlantic world. Hemispheric history reorients the geographic reach and interpretive approach to include regions that bordered on the Pacific and those that remained autonomous of (though deeply affected by) European rule throughout the colonial period. As with Atlantic history, hemispheric history reaches in time from 1492 to the present in two broad periods: the early modern era of European colonization and the modern era of independence and nation building. The focus of this bibliography is on the era of colonization, beginning in 1492, when the Columbian voyages initiated sustained contact between the Americas, Europe, and Africa, and ending in the early 19th century, when most of the American colonies gained independence from European rule. Hemispheric history seeks an expansive approach that emphasizes interconnectedness and highlights the common history of the early Americas. The cornerstone of this common history is demographic: the catastrophic decline of indigenous populations and the massive immigration of millions of Europeans and Africans occurred across the hemisphere and fundamentally reshaped its history. Rather than emphasizing the initiative and inheritances of European colonizers to the exclusion of other forces, Hemispheric history begins with the assumption that American conditions—the nature and structure of Native American societies and the opportunities and constraints imposed by American resources and environments—determined patterns of colonization everywhere in the hemisphere. This fact is often obscured in partial treatments of colonization and only becomes fully apparent when we adopt a fully contextualized and broadly comparative approach. From this perspective, we can understand the emergence of imperial centers, peripheries, and borderlands, and we can appreciate the vast reaches of American territory that remained autonomous from European control well beyond independence. Much of the work in this article is not explicitly framed as hemispheric history, and most of the works are not hemispheric in scope. But all of them support analytical perspectives that can be extended throughout the hemisphere and illuminate the common patterns that shaped the Americas in the era of European colonization.

General Overviews

These works present broadly framed conceptual or interpretive approaches that depart from the traditional nationalist framework of colonial histories to consider the Americas as a whole. Bolton 1933 introduces the notion of an “epic of greater America” that forcefully rejects nationalist approaches and argues for a common history of the Americas with roots in essential European differences. Bolton created the field of borderlands history, but his call for a common history of the Americas remained largely neglected for decades. A critical exception is Zavala 1961, which grew out of the History of America project sponsored by the Pan American Institute of History and Geography. It presents a sophisticated analysis of the divergent development of European colonies in the Americas that highlights European, African, and American influences and anticipates entire research fields to come. The social and cultural history of the early Americas that blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s remained largely defined by specific fields and yet also lay the groundwork for later border crossings. Lockhart and Schwartz 1983 offers a sophisticated conceptual framework that emphasizes what Europeans found in the Americas (indigenous societies and exploitable resources) to explain regional development in colonial Latin America—a model that has been profitably extended to the entire western hemisphere in Kicza and Horn 2013. Economic historians have embraced a hemispheric approach to explain divergent economic outcomes of European colonies after independence. Bergquist 1996 and Engerman and Sokoloff 1997 both propose explanations that rest on broadly construed economic frameworks. They emphasize resource endowments, including climate, soil type, and density of indigenous populations that led to three core types of colonies that largely transcend imperial or national boundaries—plantation societies dependent on African slave labor; societies that relied primarily on mineral resources and indigenous labor; and societies based on small-scale grain agriculture and European free or indentured labor. Greene 2009 argues for a hemispheric perspective in response to recent more expansive approaches to the history of the colonial United States, including Atlantic history and Continental history. Hinderaker and Horn 2010 presents the case for a hemispheric perspective through a deeply considered historiographical lens. Fernández-Armesto 2005 offers a compelling overview of the history of the hemisphere from 1492 to the present, while Greer 2018 develops an important comparison of the colonial practices of property formation in New France, New England, and New Spain. Gould 2007 introduces the notion of “entangled history,” which highlights the interconnectedness of European empires in the Americas. Cañizares-Esguerra 2007 warns against an approach to entangled history that merely constitutes a new form of borderlands history; he seeks instead to explore entanglements at the core of Europe’s American empires.

  • Bergquist, Charles. “The Paradox of American Development.” In Labor and the Course of American Democracy: US History in Latin American Perspective. By Charles Bergquist, 8–42. New York: Verso, 1996.

    A critical text that counters earlier interpretations that resorted to race, climate, or culture to explain why the wealthiest European colonies in the Americas became the poorest nations and the poorest colonies became the richest ones. Argues that the economic roles that European colonies played in the Atlantic world structured labor systems that best explain the divergent development of the United States and the nations of Latin America.

  • Bolton, Herbert E. “The Epic of Greater America.” American Historical Review 38 (April 1933): 448–474.

    DOI: 10.2307/1837492

    Delivered during the rising tide of 20th-century pan-Americanism as the 1932 presidential address to the American Historical Association, this classic text calls for a retreat from nationalist approaches to the study and teaching of the Americas. It implores scholars to embrace an “epic of greater America” that considers the hemisphere as a whole. Emphasizes European identities and cultures in the making of the early Americas.

  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. “Entangled Histories: Borderland Historiographies in New Clothes?” American Historical Review 112 (June 2007): 787–799.

    DOI: 10.1086/ahr.112.3.787

    Cañizares-Esguerra argues that entangled histories too often focus on events at the peripheries of empire, rather than examining developments at their core. He argues instead for examining patterns of entanglement at the heart of the colonial enterprise—specifically in this case, the influence of “theological and demonological debates in the Spanish Empire” on “the religious, patriotic identities of Puritan settlers in New England” (p. 789).

  • Engerman, Stanley L., and Kenneth L. Sokoloff. “Factor Endowments, Institutions, and Differential Paths of Growth among New World Economies: A View from Economic Historians of the United States.” In How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays on the Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico, 1800–1914. Edited by Stephen Haber, 260–304. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

    Written by economic historians from the United States, this important essay argues that resource endowments best explain the eventual sustained economic growth in the United States and Canada in contrast to Latin America. In the northern colonies of mainland North America, atypical resource endowments led to a more homogeneous population and equitable distribution of wealth that provided for broad participation in commercial activity and eventual economic growth and industrialization.

  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The Americas: A Hemispheric History. New York: Modern Library, 2005.

    A succinct and sweeping hemispheric history from human settlement to the present. Written with flair and demonstrating a breathtaking command of a vast literature as well as central themes in the history of the Americas, it traces the shift in power from the traditional centers of civilization in the south in the precolonial and colonial periods to the United States in the north in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Gould, Eliga H. “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery.” American Historical Review 112 (June 2007): 764–786.

    DOI: 10.1086/ahr.112.3.764

    A landmark essay that introduces the idea of entangled history, an approach to hemispheric history that relies less on comparisons among empires than on attention to the larger hemispheric system that Europe’s early modern empires were a part of. This system, Gould argues, “was deeply asymmetric, with the balance of power tilting heavily for much of the colonial era in Spain’s favor” (p. 768). British imperialism, he suggests, was deeply influenced by Spain’s American initiatives.

  • Greene, Jack P. “Hemispheric History and Atlantic History.” In Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal. Edited by Jack P. Greene and Philip D. Morgan, 299–315. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Argues for a hemispheric perspective that transcends the national framework characteristic of traditional colonial histories and also offers greater opportunities for the comparative analysis of North and South America than either Continental history or Atlantic history. Presents a succinct comparison of the source materials, historiographical trends, and similarities and differences between colonial British America and Latin America as well as the rich opportunities and formidable challenges of writing hemispheric history.

  • Greer, Allan. Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires and Land in Early Modern North America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316675908

    An important book that compares the processes of property formation in the colonial societies of New France, New England, and New Spain between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Rather than focusing on legal doctrines or theories of dispossession, Greer analyzes the on-the-ground processes by which settler colonies came to impose their control on particular tracts of land at the expense of the indigenous communities that had previously inhabited them.

  • Hinderaker, Eric, and Rebecca Horn. “Territorial Crossings: Histories and Historiographies of the Early Americas.” William and Mary Quarterly 67 (2010): 396–432.

    A conceptually rich and densely detailed historiographical discussion of the tenacious hold of nationalist frameworks on and more recent expansive approaches (Continental, Atlantic, borderlands, comparative history, and hemispheric history) to the history of the early Americas. Structured around essays presented at a 2009 scholarly workshop, this article outlines the essential elements of a common history of the Americas and the promise of a hemispheric perspective to elucidate it.

  • Kicza, John E., and Rebecca Horn. Resilient Cultures: America’s Native Peoples Confront European Colonialism, 1500–1800. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013.

    An important synthesis that explores the transformation and creative adaptation of indigenous societies as they confront European colonization in Latin America, French Canada, and British and Dutch North America. Extends the Lockhart/Schwartz model of distinct types of indigenous societies at contact—sedentary, semi-sedentary, and non-sedentary—beyond Latin America to demonstrate its analytical power to explain indigenous-European interaction in European colonies throughout the Americas.

  • Lockhart, James, and Stuart B. Schwartz. Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    A sophisticated and influential interpretive synthesis of colonial Latin American history by two of the most distinguished historians in the field that in contrast to earlier works treats Spanish America and Brazil within a single conceptual framework. Emphasizes the influence of the nature of indigenous societies and exploitable resources (more than European national difference) on the emergence of central and fringe areas of colonial Latin America across time.

  • Zavala, Silvio. “A General View of the Colonial History of the New World.” American Historical Review 66 (1961): 913–929.

    DOI: 10.2307/1845863

    A classic text (but often neglected), this article argues that colonial experience was shaped not by essential European differences but by interactions among European, Indian, and African peoples in diverse colonial settings. Zavala suggests a tripartite typology of American societies that cut across lines of European national origins: “the Americas of European, African, and Indian identity” (p. 924).

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