In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section North Africa and the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiography
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • Diplomacy and International Relations
  • Trading Connections
  • Human Mobility
  • North African Corsairs in the Atlantic
  • Responses to North African Captivity
  • North Africa and the Iberian Atlantic
  • North Africa and the United States

Atlantic History North Africa and the Atlantic World
Jose Miguel Escribano Páez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0372


The engagement of North African polities and characters in the Atlantic world has received little scholarly attention in comparison with western Europe and to a lesser extent sub-Saharan Africa. The region is considered as the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and while its contribution to the Mediterranean World is nowadays acknowledged, this is not the case regarding the Atlantic. Repairing the broken connections between North Africa and the Atlantic is a difficult task still to be done, but the available literature examining the region’s connected past has provided a useful and promising basis. North Africa (or the Maghreb) as defined in this article refers to the territories spanning from Atlantic Morocco to Tripolitania (in present-day Libya). Hence, special attention is paid to their relationships with Atlantic Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. The chronological span of the article goes through the period between the central decades of the sixteenth century, when the rise of the Sharifian dynasties in Morocco and the consolidation of the Ottoman rule in Central and Eastern Maghreb marks the start of an Early Modern period in this region, to the mid-nineteenth century, when the advent of European colonialism puts an end to it. North Africans participated in the boom of the Atlantic economy and Moroccan and Algerian corsairs raided places as far as Iceland or obliged the European powers to develop institutions to cope with the threat they posed to long-distance trade. Furthermore, major political events in the wider Atlantic world had a momentous impact on North Africa. A wide array of North African actors, such as rulers, port cities, intellectuals, religious leaders, corsairs, and slaves, reacted to and engaged with the struggle waged by the European empires for long-distance trade, with the Atlantic revolutions, or with the rise of sea powers.

General Overviews

Only a few works cover North Africa as a specific historical region during the Early Modern period. Unsurprising, none of them has deeply inquired into the historical relationship of this region and the Atlantic world. In fact, the classic works of synthesis explored the region’s connections with other regions only briefly. The first overviews were aimed at contesting decades of scholarship legitimizing colonial dominion in referring to the alleged backwardness of this region. Despite sharing this objective, these works differed in their thematic approaches. Julien 1970 showed the richness of the history of precolonial North Africa at a time when colonialism continued denying Maghrebians their own past. Abun-Nasr 1987 offers a birds-eye survey of the region’s political history. Valensi 1977 pays much more attention to its complex social history. Laroui 1977 is an attempt to present a total history of the Maghreb from prehistoric to contemporary times. Naylor 2009, the first comprehensive study in English on North Africa since the 1970s, puts political history back at the center, but it emphasizes the interactions within North African societies as well as with the neighboring world. Some general histories of the Islamic world include useful chapters on North Africa authored by experts. Of particular interest are Cory 2010 and Touati 2010 which, respectively, focus on early modern Morocco and the Ottoman Maghreb. Lapidus 2012 offers a great summary of North Africa’s history situating it into the larger framework of the Islamic societies and their global contexts.

  • Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511608100

    A survey of the political history of this region covering from the medieval era to the early postcolonial period. The author acknowledges the importance of the connections with the Iberian Peninsula or the Ottoman Empire, but his analysis privileges the competition between nomad tribalism and urban state centralization as the main driving force of the region’s history. It could work as a general introduction for a non-specialist audience and undergraduate students.

  • Cory, Stephen. “Sharifian Rule in Morocco (Tenth–Twelfth / Sixteenth–Eighteenth Centuries).” In The New Cambridge History of Islam: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by Maribel Fierro, II, 453–479. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    The author traces how the concept of a Moroccan state came to reality during the Early Modern period through the confrontation with Iberian and Ottoman imperial ambitions and the establishment of a centralized government over the decentralized reality of the country’s politics and society.

  • Julien, Charles-André. History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco; From the Arab Conquest to 1830. New York: Praeger, 1970.

    English translation of the second edition of what was long recognized as the best general history of the region since it was first published in French in 1931. The author placed more emphasis on autochthonous developments at the risk of dismissing the key importance of the Ottoman occupation. Nowadays, more than a source of information, this work authored by the doyen of French North African historians can be considered as an object of analysis in itself.

  • Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    The author offers a complete overview of the region’s history from the thirteen to the nineteenth centuries defined by the relations between state and rural and tribal forces while paying attention to the political and religious variations of each society. See pp. 406–424.

  • Laroui, Abdallah. The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretative Essay. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

    One of the most popular books on the history of North Africa, in fact a rare best-seller in the academic market. The author efficiently deconstructs the uncritical adoption of colonial conventions of North Africa by Western scholars. Although outdated in many senses, it continues to be a useful classroom material.

  • Naylor, Phillip Chiviges. North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

    A clear and concise book on the political history of North Africa from the early historical era to the contemporary period. The author engages the reader through the history of North Africa as a region at the crossroads of African, Asian, and European history. A useful textbook for coursework in this subject as well as a valuable introduction for non-specialists.

  • Touati, Houari. “Ottoman Maghrib.” In The New Cambridge History of Islam: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by Maribel Fierro II, 503–545. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    This chapter offers an accessible account of the geopolitical formation of the different countries of the modern Maghreb after the anarchy resulting from the collapse of previous dynasties and the introduction of the Ottoman notion of frontiers.

  • Valensi, Lucette. On the Eve of Colonialism: North Africa before the French Conquest. New York: Africana, 1977.

    The author offers an introductory survey of political, economic, and social developments in North Africa between 1790 and 1830. This small book focuses more on Morocco and Tunis and less on Algeria. Similarly, the social dimension is far more grounded than the political one. It may work as a reader and includes an appendix of translated sources that can be useful for classroom debates with undergraduate students.

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