In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Coastal/Coastwise Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Piracy and Privateering
  • Navigational Knowledge and Technologies
  • Coastal and Marine Environments
  • Economic History

Atlantic History Coastal/Coastwise Trade
Mary Draper, Hannah Tucker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0366


Throughout the Atlantic world—from Quebec to Montevideo and from London to Benguela—coastlines served as sites of local, interimperial, and transatlantic trade. While some scholars define coastal trade as domestic, this bibliography takes an expansive view. In a region inhabited by different European, Indigenous, African, and African-descended peoples, coastal trade entailed cross-imperial and cross-cultural interactions. In some instances, competing powers shared the same coastline. In northeastern North America, along a coastline home to the Wabanaki, British and later American territories neighbored French and then British colonies. Likewise, in the Caribbean, French, Spanish, and later Haitian powers shared the island of Hispaniola. Along these coasts, trade was naturally interimperial. In other instances, residents of the Atlantic world flouted imperial authority, refusing to recognize what they viewed as arbitrary boundaries. Indigenous peoples rejected European attempts to circumscribe borders, asserting their own understanding of coastal space. Meanwhile, smugglers routinely crisscrossed colonies and empires to sustain local communities in the wake of imperial neglect. The works included in this bibliography highlight the contested and quotidian nature of coastal trade. They consider how coastal trade could extend or contest transatlantic trade routes. They chart how this trade operated, sketch its geography and hydrography, and demonstrate how it buttressed colonization, often in ways that were distinct from oceanic trade. Taken together, these works show how coastal trade shaped the lives of diverse inhabitants throughout the Atlantic world.

General Overviews

While there is no general overview of coastal trade in the Atlantic world, there are useful overviews of maritime and coastal history. The essays in Jowitt, et al. 2018 analyze early modern maritime ventures across the globe. Gillis 2012 surveys the history of coastal exploration and settlement in world history. Both books have essays or chapters that center the Atlantic world.

  • Gillis, John R. The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226922256.001.0001

    An overview of 100,000 years of the human coastal experience. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the early modern era, detailing alongshore empires of the Atlantic world, coastal settlement patterns, and the development of port cities.

  • Jowitt, Claire, Craig Lambert, and Steve Mentz, eds. The Routledge Research Companion to Marine and Maritime Worlds, 1400–1800. London: Routledge, 2018.

    Though not specifically coastal, this collection of essays surveys the maritime history of the early modern era. These essays range widely in theme and place, covering port cities, navies, women and the sea, and maritime communities.

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