What are the Atlantic Worlds?

The term “Atlantic Worlds” refers to the history of the interactions between peoples, cultures, and empires that surround the basin of the Atlantic Ocean. The period of study encapsulated by Atlantic Worlds generally begins with the Age of Discovery (contested by scholars, but usually recognized as 1492) and ends with the nineteenth century. Large parts of these Atlantic Worlds include international trade, including the growth of the trans-atlantic slave trade, colonization, and the rise of the capitalist system in the fall of the early modern mercantile system of trade. Empires active within the Atlantic were predominantly the Dutch, French, Iberian, and British. The points of interaction around the Atlantic include predominantly the Caribbean, Africa, and South America, as well as later North America.

Atlantic Worlds as a historical concept was spearheaded by the work of American historian Bernard Bailyn based on his Harvard Seminar “The History of the Atlantic World.” Full synopsis of Bailyn’s concept of the Atlantic Worlds can be found helpfully in his Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (2005). Since Bailyn, the field has grown to include aspects of culture, ideology, religion, the environment, and countless other factors as well as to more fully include the histories of indigenous peoples, especially Africans displaced by the slave trade. The study of the Atlantic Worlds is referred to now as Atlantic Studies, as explored in this website.

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Above is a general outline of major historical events that occur during the period scholars refer to as the “Atlantic Worlds.” This is not a comprehensive timeline, but seeks to illustrate major turning points during the period.

(Page by Micaela Kowalski)