Atlantic History Histories and Historiographies of the Atlantic World
by
Agnes Delahaye
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0328

Introduction

Broadly defined, histories of the Atlantic world are works of historical research on the circulation of bodies, commodities, and ideas around and across the many regions of the Atlantic Basin from the late 15th century until the middle of the 19th century. Atlantic history, under which these histories may be grouped, has emerged as a full-fledged unit of historical research through a series of historiographic debates and innovations at the end of the last century, when historians questioned the assumptions and the limits of the imperial and national paradigms of their predecessors. Atlantic history therefore defines a historical method intent on revealing the profound interconnectedness between Africa, the Americas, and Europe, beyond the traditional frameworks of the nation-state and the empire, to uncover the changes undergone by people, places, and environments since exchanges began between these vast areas. Atlantic histories are transnational, comparative, and often interdisciplinary, engaging many fields in pursuit of their enquiries. The complexity and the diversity of these disciplines and their respective, interlocking historiographies are attested by the number and variety of bibliographies on Atlantic subjects in this online collection. This bibliography, in turn, builds a genealogy of Atlantic history and organizes its evolution in broad thematic categories, to offer the reader a selection of resources, individual essays, monographs, and collaborative publications directly and explicitly addressing the relevance of Atlantic methods and perspectives and the historical significance of European expansion since the beginnings of transatlantic shipping. We begin with an overview of the founding debates of the wide and dynamic field of Atlantic history and a selection of textbooks, resources, and journals, illustrating and referencing the vast quantity of transnational and comparative research it has generated. The second part of this bibliography proposes a series of broad categories under which this extensive scholarship may be gathered, with references illustrating the practices and the issues raised by the specialists in each field and each period: first, the issue of encounter in the Age of discovery and then the circulation of people and the formation of slave and migrant societies in and around the Atlantic Basin until the middle of the 19th century, followed by the circulation of commodities and the formation of merchant and trading networks that accompanied transatlantic trade and development. This bibliography ends on the circulations of ideas and cultures over the same period and points to the importance of postcolonial and imperial historiographies in recent social, cultural and material histories of the Atlantic world.

General Overviews

Atlantic history is a self-reflexive field of recent modern history. Bushnell 1995 is a collection of essays in which historians of the major imperial nations of the 17th and 18th centuries expressed their frustrations with the constrictive and artificial boundaries of national historical paradigms preventing a full assessment of the social and political consequences of European expansion and settlement around the Atlantic basin. The general contours and issues raised by Atlantic perspectives were defined in the seven articles of the roundtable discussion published in Intinerario 1999, in which the many possible Atlantics were theoretically and methodologically defined. Bailyn 2005 formalizes these findings from a historiographic and political perspective, to define the Atlantic world as a cohesive unit of historical research integrated in the metahistorical narrative of American history. Canny 2001 provides an alternative narrative of this genealogy and explains how the emergence of Atlantic history was a also a consequence of the political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s over the legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Americas and in Europe, which still makes the transatlantic slave trade the most dynamic and truly transnational field of Atlantic history. The circulation of people, goods, and ideas became the object of study for intellectual and social historians as well. Armitage and Braddick 2009 proposes to study the history of the British Atlantic as a series of multiple movements, places, and networks, a sum of social phenomena and realities that provide an alternative to the unidirectional paradigm of constitutional history. Canny and Morgan 2011 asks historians to constantly challenge their assumptions and their objects and stretch their chronology, to uncover the profound interconnectedness tying people, markets, and spaces across and around the Atlantic ocean since the onset of European expansion and settlement. These objects require alternative methods. Games 2008 argues for the interdisciplinary and integrative nature of Atlantic history, while Greene and Morgan 2009 inscribes Atlantic developments in an even wider, global scale, in constant dialogue with other historical frameworks. Steele 2007 and Burnard and Vidal 2014 provide crucial reviews of these trends, showing deep appreciation for the interdisciplinary and revisionist nature of Atlantic history and a critical approach to its reluctance to engage with the social, racial, and political legacy of the wide, transnational phenomena it has uncovered.

  • Armitage, David, and Michael J. Braddick, eds. The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    A series of essays resulting from the discussions begun at the Harvard Seminar on the History of the Atlantic world in 1997, centered on the notions of diversity, circulation and networks. The first essay by David Armitage proposes “three concepts of Atlantic history” to account for the profound interconnectedness of all its areas and the peoples circulating between them.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    The classic foundational definition of Atlantic history by its leading practitioner, in which Bailyn forcefully argues for the relevance of Atlantic history as an transnational alternative to Eurocentric imperial histories and delineates the methods and limitations of the field.

  • Burnard, Trevor, and Cécile Vidal. “Location and the Conceptualization of Historical Frameworks. Early American History and Its Multiple Reconfigurations in the United States and in Europe.” In Historians across Borders. Writing American History in a Global Age. Edited by Nicholas Barreyre, Michael Heale, Stephen Tuck, and Cécile Vidal, 141–462. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520279278.003.0007E-mail Citation »

    Explains the emergence of Atlantic history in reaction to whiggish exceptionalism and how it differs from imperial history, continental history, and hemispheric history in trying and, only partially succeeding, to escape its Eurocentric and North American bias.

  • Bushnell, Amy Turner, ed. Establishing Exceptionalism: Historiography and the Colonial Americas. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains thirteen essays previously published elsewhere in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, by leading social and intellectual historians of British, Iberian, French, and Dutch colonization. They question the constrictive limits of the historiographies in which they have trained and lay the ground work for comparative imperial history, or the future of Atlantic history.

  • Canny, Nicholas. “Atlantic History: What and Why?”. European Review 9.4 (2001): 399–411.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1062798701000370E-mail Citation »

    A very clear, didactic, yet personal essay by an early practitioner of Atlantic history, detailing the genealogy of the idea of the Atlantic world as a category of historical analysis and evidencing the commonality of tropes, references, and motivations of European explorers and colonizers from the very beginnings of exploration in the Atlantic basin.

  • Canny, Nicholas, and Philip Morgan, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World, 1450–1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of thirty-seven essays by leading scholars on a wide variety of subjects, organized in chronological order from the 15th century to the present, to trace and explain the emergence of Atlantic phenomena during the early modern era, their consolidation and integration in the 18th century, and their disintegration during and after the Age of Revolutions.

  • Games, Alison. “Atlantic History and Interdisciplinary Approaches.” William and Mary Quarterly 65.1 (2008): 167–170.

    DOI: 10.2307/25096773E-mail Citation »

    A short essay part of a wider discussion on the feasibility of a dialogue between history and literature in the study of the Atlantic world, in which Games argues forcefully and convincingly in favor of interdisciplinarity and the integration of many disciplines in pursuit of Atlantic questions and objects.

  • Greene, Jack, and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    An introduction and a series of thirteen historiographic essays covering enormous literatures, research methods, and perspectives, surrounding the histories of each area of the Atlantic (Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, and Dutch) to discuss the feasibility of interconnected history on such a wide scale. The last four essays analyze the competing and complementary forces at work in an Atlantic perspective, in dialogue with continental, hemispheric, global, and imperial histories.

  • “Roundtable Conference: The Nature of Atlantic History.” Itinerario 23.2 (1999): 48–174.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0165115300024761E-mail Citation »

    Seven seminal essays by leading specialists in their fields introducing the sources and the questions surrounding the existence and possible study of the Dutch, the French, the Iberian, the British, and the Black Atlantics and discussing the interface between Atlantic and global history and the requirements of teaching Atlantic history.

  • Steele, Ian K. “Bernard Baylin’s American Atlantic.” History & Theory 46.1 (2007): 48–58.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2007.00390.xE-mail Citation »

    A review essay of the Eurocentric genealogy of Bailyn’s American Atlantic history in the context of competing historiographies of the empire since the Second World War, demonstrating the wealth and breadth of equally Atlantic works in imperial, neocolonial, and postcolonial history, and questions and revisits the exceptionalism of historical paradigms built on the power-laden concept of Western civilization, both European and American.

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