Book Review: The Atlantic In Global History, 1500-2000

The Atlantic In Global History, 1500-200, edited by Jorge Cañizares-ESguerra and Erik R. Seeman

As someone who has long, if informally, found myself deeply interested in matters of Atlantic history, this book was certainly one I looked forward to reading and in reading it, despite my disagreement with some of the essays and their perspectives, I found much of value and interest as well.  Indeed, some of the aspects of the book and its search for expanding the terrain of Atlantic History as an approach are ones in which I have myself participated in in some fashion [1].  There is certainly a strong tendency for some people to view the boundaries of a given field or approach rigidly, but at the same time it is on the boundaries or interface between areas where a great deal of profitable and useful study can be made.  The efforts of the writers in this book demonstrate at least some of the ways where Atlantic history, and a thoughtful expansion of what it means in one or more axes, can allow for greater insights about the connection between things in one area and another, and between what are often viewed as different matters.  Seeing connections where they exist is a good and worthwhile thing.

This book is about 250 pages long or so and is divided into three parts with numerous essays.  The book starts with a list of figures, maps, a preface, information about contributors, a foreword, and an introduction about the purposes of the editors in expanding the frontiers of Atlantic history.  After that the first part of the book contains essays that compare various Atlantics together, including essays about the Catholic Atlantic, a transnational perspective of the devil in the New World, Jews in the early Modern Atlantic, the relationship of the European Empires and the tribes of the American south, as well as the navigation achievement of Gil Eanes in using geography to correctly handle the currents of coastal Africa (I).  After that there are some essays that look beyond the Atlantic (II), discussing empires in their global context, the global dimensions of the rice trade, African diasporas, piracy in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and interoceanic perspectives on Atlantic history.  The third part of the book looks at the evolving Atlantic in the period after 1800 (III), with essays on modernization and modernity, continuity and crisis in Cuban slavery and Spanish colonialism in the 19th century, black identities in the formation of the Western world, and Ireland’s role in encouraging liberation theology, without a doubt and by far the worst essay in the whole collection.

That is not to say that this book is perfect or that all of the essays in it are good.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Even the badly misguided essays here, though, and thankfully there are not too many of those, at least demonstrate how a better historian with more sense and a better worldview could expand what is thought of as Atlantic history by approaching a given subject better.  And that is something well worth appreciating.  This book is a model and a guide for people to look at the Atlantic in more ways and to cut through some of the spatial, temporal, and topical borders that have often surrounded it, and to recognize that there is a lot that is good and worthwhile about the approach to history that can be taken as a model for future researchers and for present researchers in future projects.  At times, for example, it is necessary to pay more attention to neglected regions or neglected matters (religious history).  At other times it is necessary to connect what is going on in the Atlantic to what is going on in other areas (the Pacific and Mediterranean, most obviously).

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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