In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Continental America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Surveys
  • Journals
  • Continental Indian History
  • European Empires across the Continent
  • The West
  • Mississippi Valley
  • The Northeast
  • The Southeast

Atlantic History Continental America
Kathleen DuVal, Kristofer Ray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0015


Traditionally, early American history was limited to the thirteen British colonies that rebelled and became the original United States. Increasingly, historians have expanded the study of early America to “continental America,” all of the land and peoples that eventually formed the United States. Rather than ignore these places and peoples until the United States expanded west in the 19th century, historians of continental America include most of North America (and even Alaska and Hawaii) from the beginning. Expanding the land under consideration has led to a recognition that native peoples remained the majority of the population and controlled the vast majority of the continent well past the American Revolution. This expansion also recognizes the important roles French, Spanish, and other non-British colonizers played in this history, both in their own right and as they interacted with British colonies. Yet this expansion has its own intellectual difficulties—it creates a new teleology to focus on the places that became the United States in later periods. Recognizing this potential pitfall and the fact that little of the present-day United States border had relevance in the colonial period, historians of continental America generally draw on and include the histories of northern Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean where relevant. Although most general works on colonial America now incorporate continentalism at least to some extent, the historiography of the American Revolution and the early American republic has been slower to embrace the continent. Histories of the revolutionary period still generally focus on the thirteen rebellious colonies, and most histories of the early republic still see the continent solely from the perspective of the United States as it expanded west. Still, recent scholarship suggests that the continent is beginning to play a larger role in these later periods as well. Obviously, many entries in this bibliography deal with the North American continent; this entry focuses on historians who explicitly embrace continentalism and those works that stress themes such as Indian power, which continentalism has brought to the fore.

General Overviews

Most of these works discuss the philosophy behind studying the continent as a whole. Taylor 2001 gives a thorough narrative of the colonial period, whereas Calloway 1997 is focused on how interactions between Indians and Europeans changed the continent. Axtell 1992, Crosby 1986, Mancall and Merrell 2007, Smolenski and Humphrey 2005, and the “Continental Possessions” 2004 special issue cover longer time periods (beyond the American Revolution) but are more selective in subject matter.

  • Axtell, James. Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    Axtell’s engaging essay collection explores Indian–European interactions in a variety of circumstances, showing Indians’ centrality to early American history.

  • Calloway, Colin G. New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    Sweeping synthesis of Indian–European interactions across the continent.

  • “Panel I: Continental Possessions.” Special issue, Journal of the Early Republic 24.2 (2004): 159–188.

    Articles by Alan Taylor, Andrés Reséndez, Elizabeth Fenn, and James Brooks discuss the ways in which historians are centering early American history on the entire continent of North America, not looking outward from the British mainland colonies.

  • Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    Shows how diseases, plants, and animals brought from Europe and Africa dramatically changed lives and landscapes in the Americas. Pays little attention to how people responded to the changes, a subject that can be found in other works.

  • Mancall, Peter C., and James H. Merrell, eds. American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500–1850. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Reprints important recent articles on encounters among Indians, Europeans, and Africans across the continent. Authors include Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Brett Rushforth, Neal Salisbury, Timothy Shannon, David Silverman, Daniel Vickers, and Bruce White.

  • Mapp, Paul. “Imperial History from Atlantic, Continental, and Pacific Perspectives.” William and Mary Quarterly 63 (2006): 713–724.

    Very useful essay that shows the limitations of Atlantic history for encompassing the colonial period and reflects on its overlap and lack thereof with a continental approach and the history of the early modern Pacific.

  • Smolenski, John, and Thomas J. Humphrey, eds. New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

    A broadly comparative set of essays on the theme of violence and order across British, Spanish, Dutch, and French colonies. Authors include Cynthia Radding on northwestern Mexico, Ann Twinam on race in the Spanish Empire, and Cecile Vidal on slavery in Louisiana.

  • Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.

    Detailed, lucid survey of the colonial history of North America, including Alaska and Hawaii.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.