In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Maritime Atlantic in the Age of Revolutions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

Atlantic History The Maritime Atlantic in the Age of Revolutions
Mary Draper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0334


Between the 1770s and the 1820s, revolutions erupted across the Atlantic world. In North and South America, colonists rebelled against their colonial governments. Old and new nations experienced political upheaval on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, the enslaved population of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) overthrew its masters, inspiring acts of resistance throughout the Caribbean and beyond. While these events were once studied separately, the field of Atlantic history has enabled historians to examine the connections among the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American Revolutions. Yet, the maritime spaces that enabled these connections remained in the background of historical scholarship until recently. New scholarship foregrounds the ocean as a place of exploitation, political development, identity formation, and cross-cultural interaction. Diverse peoples—sailors, fishermen, enslaved Africans, refugees, and revolutionaries—traversed sea lanes during the Age of Revolutions. Some brought with them news of political developments, ideas about sovereignty, or revolutionary materials. Others sought freedom and new opportunities. They hoped to escape enslavement, find refuge from revolution, or envision a different political future. Still others saw the sea as a site of exploitation. There, Africans endured the Middle Passage, the Royal Navy impressed sailors, and fishermen harvested the ocean’s bounty. Indeed, the Age of Revolutions was inherently a maritime age. Given this diversity of maritime experience, this article complements many other Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History articles, including those that consider “The American Revolution,” “The French Revolution,” “The Haitian Revolution,” and “Latin American Independence.” It also draws extensively on scholarship that highlights networks, communications, and mobility, more of which can be found in “Communications in the Atlantic World,” “Merchants’ Networks,” “Smuggling,” and “Ships and Shipping.” While this bibliography highlights English-language scholarship, scholars will find relevant non-English-language scholarship in these linked bibliographies. As scholars continue to reconstruct the inter-imperial and transatlantic connections that residents forged across the Atlantic world, the ocean will become a key site for understanding the Age of Revolutions.

General Overviews

These works inherently highlight the inter-imperial connections that characterized the Atlantic world in the Age of Revolutions. Only Linebaugh and Rediker 2000 and Polasky 2015 assert the importance of maritime travel. For a book-length comparative overview of the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American Revolutions, see Klooster 2009. Other works are more limited in scope. Liss 1983 treats only the United States and Latin America. Paquette 2019 dedicates only one chapter to the Age of Revolutions. Armitage 2017 calls for future Atlantic histories to foreground maritime space.

  • Armitage, David. “The Atlantic Ocean.” In Oceanic Histories. Edited by David Armitage, Alison Bashford, and Sujit Sivasundaram, 85–110. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    In this recent essay, Armitage calls for recognizing the importance of the maritime to the existence of the Atlantic world. For him, the future of Atlantic history is that of oceanic history.

  • Klooster, Wim. Revolutions in the Atlantic World: A Comparative History. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

    A broad comparative history of the Age of Revolutions that dedicates one chapter each to the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American Revolutions. Though not overtly concerned with maritime space, the last chapter compares the four revolutions, emphasizing their parallels and connections across the Atlantic world.

  • Linebaugh, Peter, and Marcus Rediker. The Many Headed-Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon, 2000.

    A “history from below” of the revolutionary Atlantic world that highlights how sailors and others responded to the rise of capitalism and its inherent violence. Resistance to capitalism transcended ethnic, racial, and national boundaries and enabled the creation of a multiethnic proletariat that shared a working-class consciousness.

  • Liss, Peggy K. Atlantic Empires: The Network of Trade and Revolution, 1713–1826. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

    Classic study of inter-imperial trade and its importance to politics and revolution in the Atlantic world. Focuses on the United States and Latin America.

  • Paquette, Gabriel. The European Seaborne Empires: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Age of Revolutions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvgc61x6

    Charts the evolution of the Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch empires with one chapter covering the Age of Revolutions.

  • Polasky, Janet. Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

    Transnational history of the Age of Revolutions that shows how 18th-century travelers—or “itinerant revolutionaries”—spread information and new notions of liberty and equality. Recipients then transformed the meaning of “revolution” to fit local realities. The volume covers a geographically vast space and includes places like Sierra Leone, Guadeloupe, and Martinique.

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