Atlantic History Red Atlantic
by
Bryan Rindfleisch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0333

Introduction

The Red Atlantic is a concept by scholars in Native American history and Native American and Indigenous studies (NAIS) to address one of the perennial issues facing the study of the Atlantic world: the exclusion of the Indigenous Peoples of North America. In many years of existence, Atlantic world studies has focused on the movement of peoples (immigrants, slaves), goods (trade, food, diseases, etc.), and empires across the Atlantic Ocean, but rarely do such works engage with how Indigenous Americans contributed to, negotiated, and at times dictated transatlantic movements and connections. Instead, Indigenous Americans remain obstacles of empire, faceless suppliers of transatlantic goods like deerskins, peripheral figures who occupied the fringes of the Atlantic world, or proverbial boogeymen to transatlantic migrants (i.e., invaders) who settled in North America. However, as scholars of the Red Atlantic have articulated, our understandings of the Atlantic world—whether about merchant networks in New England and the West Indies or Spanish missions in Mesoamerica and Florida—are limited and altogether incomplete if Indigenous Peoples are relegated to the margins of the Atlantic world. In fact, there is much that scholars can learn from the Red Atlantic. For instance, groups like the Wabanaki were maritime people, like their European and African counterparts, as their everyday lives and cultures revolved around interactions with the Atlantic Ocean, such as enfolding European merchant networks into their own economies or turning to piracy to combat imperial expansion in their territories. Meanwhile, scholars of the Red Atlantic have brought to life the Indian slave trade in 17th- and 18th-century New France, between French and Algonquian peoples who carved out a traffic in human beings that connected Canada to France, the West Indies, and Africa, before the wholesale importation of African peoples. Indigenous American languages and local knowledge also shaped how European natural scientists came to understand foreign places, flora, and fauna, as Europeans proved dependent on Native knowledge systems to gain a better understanding of the world around them. In so many instances like these, the Red Atlantic demonstrates how to broaden interpretations of the Atlantic world paradigm and how to provide a more inclusive, holistic understanding of history. What follows is a sample of some of the most important works that have spurred or contributed to the Red Atlantic and concludes with those that have most recently nuanced, complicated, or redirected Atlantic world studies.

Foundations

Although scholars in the 1990s and early 2000s debated the legitimacy of an Atlantic world paradigm, Bailyn 2005 effectively established it as a field of study. As the author argued, the Atlantic world provides a more holistic approach to the complex movement of peoples, plants, animals, ideas, empires, trade, disease, and revolutions, as well as the diverse interactions between the many groups of the Atlantic Ocean basin, throughout the 16th to 20th centuries. Inspired in part by Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip Volumes I–II and Philip Curtin’s The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, as well as a long history of transatlantic events (i.e., the Anglo-American alliance in World War II and the formation of NATO), Bailyn and other scholars long toyed with the idea of a transatlantic approach to history, as evidenced by Crosby 1973 and Bailyn and Morgan 1991. However, the initial scholarship focused primarily on European empires or the African slave trade, to the detriment of Indigenous Americans. Such omission produced several responses like Fulford and Hutchings 2009 and Vaughan 2006, all of which inserted Indigenous Americans into the conversations surrounding the Atlantic world. For the most part, though, these works focused on the physical movement of Native Americans across the Atlantic Ocean—a basic yet nonetheless important aspect of Atlantic world studies—or the literary depictions of Indigenous Americans in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries. But as Richter 2003 argues, if historians wanted to understand the complex and diverse world that Europeans and Africans encountered in North America, scholars needed to “face east from Indian Country” and consider the importance of Indigenous Americans to the encounters and interactions that shaped the Atlantic world. Two of the most important works to build on Richter 2003 are Flint 2009 and Carson 2007. Although the author of Flint 2009 focuses on European ideas and representations of Indigenous Americans, she utilizes Indigenous travelers, celebrities, and authors to “talk back” to Europeans, thereby bringing Indigenous voices into the Atlantic world. Meanwhile, Carson 2007 details how Native Americans were involved at every level of Atlantic world exchange, from the politics of empire and slave trade, to transatlantic commerce and intellectual discourse, demonstrating how the Atlantic world was woefully incomplete without Indigenous Americans. Hodson and Rushforth 2010 and Weaver 2014 then firmly established the legitimacy of a Red Atlantic and paved the way for a rich, voluminous scholarship related to Indigenous American encounters, interactions, and negotiations throughout the Atlantic world.

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

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    Bailyn’s book is a foundational text of the Atlantic world. The major themes he identifies are empires, immigration, commercial and communications networks, the slave trade, and identity transformation. Indigenous Americans, though, are largely absent from Bailyn’s manifesto; instead, they are passive actors destined to be removed out of the way by Euro-Americans. The Red Atlantic, then, is a repudiation of Bailyn’s erasure of Indigenous Americans from the Atlantic world.

  • Bailyn, Bernard, and Philip D. Morgan, ed. Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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    This edited collection of essays is a precursor to Bailyn 2005, which explores the various peoples that comprised the British Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, from Scots-Irish immigrants in North America, to African slaves in the West Indies. It is only James H. Merrell’s chapter, “‘The Customes of our Countrey’: Indians and Colonists in Early America,” that inserts Indigenous Americans into this collection’s preliminary conversations about the Atlantic world.

  • Carson, James Taylor. Making an Atlantic World: Circles, Paths, and Stories from the Colonial South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007.

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    In response to Bailyn 2005, Carson argues the Atlantic world could not and did not exist without the interactions and negotiations of America’s “founding peoples.” Carson pays significant attention to how Native Americans interpreted the physical (“paths”) and metaphorical (cosmological) landscape of the 18th-century Atlantic world, and how Native interactions with Europeans and Africans created a “creole world” rather than a “white world, a red world, [and] a black world.”

  • Crosby, Alfred. The Columbian Exchange: The Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. New York: Praeger Press, 1973.

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    Before the Atlantic world paradigm existed, Crosby demonstrated the very intricate and diffuse connections between Europe, Africa, and Native North America from the 16th century to the 18th, through what he termed the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange consisted of the interactions between and the transmission of peoples, diseases, foods, animals, ideas, religions, and technologies back and forth between Europe, Africa, and Native North America, a paradigm that Bailyn 2005 built upon.

  • Flint, Kate. The Transatlantic Indian, 1776–1930. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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    Flint represents one of the earliest efforts to articulate a Red Atlantic. It is primarily an analysis of how British peoples thought of themselves between the 18th and 20th centuries through their representations of Native Americans in literature and art. Flint also demonstrates how Indigenous Americans challenged such ideas, from Black Elk, who toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, to the Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson, who wrote about London.

  • Fulford, Tim, and Kevin Hutchings, Native Americans and Anglo-American Culture, 1750–1850: The Indian Atlantic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Fulford and Hutchings argue that Anglo-American literary culture created an “Indian Atlantic” between 1750 and 1850. They utilize newspapers, essays, novels, and histories written about Indigenous Americans to show how Europeans in North America and Europe shared romanticized, fictional ideas about Native Americans. Although situating Native Peoples within the Atlantic world, this book is more about Euro-Americans who wrote about Indigenous Americans rather than their interactions with the Atlantic world.

  • Hodson, Christopher, and Brett Rushforth. “Absolutely Atlantic: Colonialism and the Early Modern French State in Recent Historiography.” History Compass 8.1 (January 2010): 101–117.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-0542.2009.00635.xE-mail Citation »

    Hodson and Rushforth take seriously the question of whether or not the interactions between Indigenous Peoples and European colonists and empires in North America constitute “Atlantic History,” and their answer is overwhelmingly yes. They provide a sweeping, comprehensive survey of the literature related to Indigenous-French encounters and interactions in the Early Modern French Atlantic, and demonstrate how such scholarship is on the cutting edge of Red Atlantic historiography.

  • Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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    Richter’s book is a foundational text in Native American history that challenged scholars to consider American history “facing east from Indian Country” rather than from Eurocentric narratives. Richter’s insights are critical to conceptualizing how the Indigenous Americans fit into the Atlantic world, and how scholars must continually “face east from Indian Country” to understand how Indigenous Peoples interacted with and negotiated the systems and processes that defined the Atlantic world.

  • Vaughan, Alden T. Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500–1776. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    This is one of the first books to integrate Native Americans into the Atlantic world, as Vaughan illustrates how Indigenous Peoples traversed the Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain over the course of centuries, and at the time complicating the history of the Atlantic world. However, Vaughan’s book is rather one-dimensional, limited to the infrequent Indigenous interactions with and movements in England between the 16th and 18th centuries.

  • Weaver, Jace. The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000–1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

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    Weaver firmly establishes the legitimacy of the “Red Atlantic” by demonstrating how Native Americans were pivotal players in Atlantic politics, economics, and cultural exchange (language, literature), as far back as the 11th century and up through the 20th century. He pays significant attention to those Indigenous Americans who traveled the Atlantic Ocean as slaves, diplomats, prisoners-of-war, sailors, soldiers, celebrities, and authors, which he argues shaped “the making of the modern world.”

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