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About this book

Providing a succinct yet comprehensive introduction to the history of the Atlantic world in its entirety, The Atlantic Experience traces the first Portuguese journeys to the West coast of Africa in the mid-fifteenth century through to the abolition of slavery in America in the late-nineteenth century.

Bringing together the histories of Europe, Africa and the Americas, this book supersedes a history of nations, foregrounds previously neglected parts of these continents, and explores the region as a holistic entity that encompassed people from many different areas, ethnic groups and national backgrounds. Distilling this huge topic into key themes such as conquest, trade, race and migration, Catherine Armstrong and Laura Chmielewski's chronological survey illuminates the crucial aspects of this cutting edge field.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Studying Atlantic History

Abstract
‘Atlantic History’ is both the study of a specific region and an historiographical approach. The origins and significance of each must be understood in order to properly comprehend the lives of the people in the Atlantic past. Atlantic history has been a popular topic among historians in the last 30 years, as shown by the word ‘Atlantic’ appearing in the title of many academic monographs. However, the topic is only now making a significant impact in undergraduate and postgraduate courses, hence the need for a textbook on the subject firmly aimed at students. Atlantic history concerns the Atlantic-facing coasts of the continents of North and South America, Europe and Africa and the Caribbean Islands from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. These regional definitions and their proximity to the Atlantic are not intended to be limiting. For example, the Scandinavian and Nordic countries and Italy played important parts in the story of the Atlantic world empires without bounding the ocean itself. Broadening the definition further, we might include a Pacific-facing nation like Peru that played a key story in the development of Spain’s New World empire, or Indian Ocean-facing regions of Africa such as Ethiopia and Mozambique that, during the sixteenth century, were involved in the Portuguese slave trading system. While coastal areas come to the fore in the stories of contact, trade and transmission of people and ideas, Atlantic historians do not neglect the interior regions of each part of the Atlantic world.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

1. Navigation and Empire

Abstract
The desire to explore the wider world and to establish settlements and empires in newly discovered territories was not new in 1500. There is a long and important pre-history to this desire. Although Europeans considered themselves at the centre of the known universe, Africans and Americans were also early exponents of using conquest to dominate their neighbours and develop new systems of governance, albeit with significant local variations. The language we use to discuss these new journeys and imaginings is significant. In talking about the European ‘discovery’ of America we are telling a particularly Eurocentric story, assuming that all innovation and progress was driven from and by Europe. The next chapter explores in more depth what happened when the peoples of the Atlantic world encountered each other for the first time. However, while it is important to acknowledge that Atlantic development represents a departure from previous cultural patterns, this development can also be seen as a continuation and this chapter will explore how ancient and medieval models of empire and earlier technological advances and modes of exploration drove this innovation. Historian Charles Verlinden argues that this continuity can be traced from the fifth century onwards.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

2. Contact and Encounter

Abstract
This chapter will explore what happened when Africans, Native Americans and Europeans encountered each other for the first time. It discusses physical responses such as trade and warfare as well as psychological and intellectual developments. Racial misconceptions rooted in the colonial period are still rampant today. Even modern historians often portray Native Americans as unchanging and simple. But we need to ask whether these attitudes were present before first contact took place, or whether it was contact between the races that caused prejudice to develop. Because immigrants wanted to create a ‘new world’ modelled on the places they had left behind, and not simply to observe and assimilate themselves into whatever they found, this meant that contact between the races was naturally strained. We must go back to the period before Columbus reached the New World to examine when and how these racial ideas emerged. Renaissance Europeans derived their understanding of the racial ‘other’ from several sources. In northern Europe, few whites had met someone from another race, so their ideas came from the culture around them. In southern Europe, such as the courts of Madrid, Lisbon and the Italian city states, contact with Africans was much more common. Isabella d’Este, Marchesa of Mantua from 1490 to 1539, instructed her agents to find her some black African servants, whom she treated well and saw as symbols of her status and wealth.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

3. Bondage and Freedom

Abstract
Identifications of racial difference were based on two independent facets: physical, observable differences such as an African’s black skin, and cultural differences such as alien clothing, religious practices or language. As we saw in Chapter 2, in Renaissance Europe black skin was associated with negativity and pollution; but as well as inferiority, bodily difference was also used to reinforce suitability for work. Africans were perceived to have sturdy bodies, and, unlike Native Americans, to be disposed to hard work in fierce climates, but to be incapable of intelligence and creativity (witness Thomas Jefferson’s comments on the lack of African American poets and playwrights in the 1780s). Native Americans were initially thought by the Spanish and the English to be suitable labourers; however, by the early sixteenth century, the African had become the labourer of choice for the Spanish. This was partly due to the impassioned plea by Bartolomé de Las Casas that Natives should not be enslaved but rather converted to Christianity, whereas Africans were natural slaves whose only destiny was as labourers for the white population. We will look at this belief in more detail later in this chapter. The biological susceptibility of Native Americans to the diseases brought over by Europeans rendered them less useful as slave labourers. Estimates vary, but in some areas over 90 per cent of the Native population succumbed to European diseases such as smallpox and measles within a few decades. The pattern was repeated as white settlements spread westward and southward.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

4. Exploiting the Atlantic: Trade and Economy

Abstract
As previously explained, Europeans did not seek to colonize simply to expand their sphere of influence around the globe. Colonies were intended to bring valuable natural resources under the control of European powers, which then used this new-found wealth to either protect their borders or to challenge their enemies. At a time when water-borne trade was often a more direct and lucrative alternative to land routes, Europeans turned towards the land masses that bounded the Atlantic to increase access to diverse trade goods. This chapter’s focus is on what these vital commodities were, the characteristics of trade routes and technologies, and the influence they exerted on policy and people.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

5. Atlantic Religion: Beliefs and Behaviours

Abstract
As historian Carla Gardina Pestana has noted, ‘European religion, especially Christianity, invaded the Atlantic World and was dramatically transformed in the process’. Indeed, Pestana speaks of changes to European Christianity that had been evolving for centuries. The experience of Atlantic encounters was one more element of this evolutionary process.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

6. Lived Lives and the Built Environment: Cultural Transfer in the Greater Atlantic

Abstract
Atlantic peoples shared some common basic needs and experiences which transferred with them across the Atlantic, or changed due to the arrival of new people. All needed shelter and food; most had families and communities they valued. They expressed their joys and sorrows in life through shared experiences, communal activities, sports, games and social rituals. Their cities and towns reflected not only their climates but tastes, preferences, religious expressions and types of work. Some lived among diverse populations in terms of race, religion and ethnicity. Almost all would have lived among animals. In this chapter, these commonalities will be considered comparatively, showing how certain cultural elements developed the way they did and what factors influenced this development.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

7. Dependence and Independence: the Parameters of Identity and Freedom

Abstract
For nearly three hundred years, the Europeans who branched out into the greater Atlantic attempted to make the new places they encountered dependent in some way. Trade and security were their chief areas of focus. When challenged, however, Europeans were not above demanding submission, a situation that obviously created dislike of the would-be overlords and, eventually, resistance movements. Enlightenment philosophies of human rights and personal liberty crossed the Atlantic like any other commodity, and gave voice and shape to popular discontent. Eventually, revolts and popular pressures gave way to calls for independence from European powers. By the middle of the nineteenth century, these movements had profound consequences, including the destruction of chattel slavery and the smashing of mercantilism, the Atlantic world’s major reason for being, as far as its European invaders were concerned.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

8. The Quest for Abolition

Abstract
The abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves was a truly Atlantic quest. Activists consciously worked with like-minded individuals to bring an end to slavery in all parts of the Atlantic world, and the letters, pamphlets and poetry they produced spread their ideas further. Abolition of the slave trade was part of the late eighteenth-century Enlightenment tradition, encompassing many other aspects such as the reform of prisons in Britain. A civil society — a public sphere in which men and women came together to campaign on moral issues — developed. As a rational and commercial modern world emerged, slavery seemed out of place. J. R. McNeill believes that the abolition of the slave trade accompanied a decline in the Atlantic system and, along with the revolutions, brought an end to the Atlantic world by 1888.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski

Conclusion

Abstract
In the emancipation of slaves in Brazil in 1888, many historians see the end of over four centuries of Atlantic-oriented exploration, encounter, political development and cultural evolution. This period encompassed global events that pre-date Columbus’s landmark voyages to the west, and ended after the American Civil War and the completion of a transcontinental railroad that linked the Atlantic coast with the Pacific. The Atlantic world’s endpoint as a defined period of study was marked by trends in global history that challenged the Atlantic as the focal point of encounter and human experience.
Catherine Armstrong, Laura M. Chmielewski
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