Western Europe and the Atlantic World

Molly Warsh

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Western Europe and the Atlantic World

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
  • African History
  • History
  • Regional and National History


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Exploration, trade, and fishing expeditions had long tempted sailors and adventurers into Atlantic waters. However, in the 15th century the search for gold, spices, and the lucrative markets of the East led Europeans to extend their travels southward down the African coast and westward into the ocean. This intensification of Europe’s engagement with the Atlantic would have dramatic and transformative repercussions for the people and places affected by these explorations. Over the course of the next several centuries, the massive migrations (see the Oxford Bibliographies article on Migrations and Diasporas)—both forced and free—of people as well as the transfer of plants, animals, and microbes irrevocably linked North America, South America, Africa, and Europe. The complexity, diversity, and evolving nature of the Atlantic world that developed from these encounters defies concise and simple characterization. This article confines itself to an overview of the ambitions and experiences of major European powers who competed for access to the human, material, and territorial wealth of the newly connected continents. Thus it provides a bibliographic introduction to the Iberian, French, British, and Dutch Atlantic worlds. The relationship of distinct European regions and powers with the emerging Atlantic world varied depending on a variety of factors, not least among them their geographical position vis-à-vis the ocean (though the recent increase in studies of the German Atlantic, discussed in the Oxford Bibliographies article on Northern Europe and the Atlantic World, affirms that an Atlantic coastline was by no means a prerequisite). In spite of the variation that existed within Europe’s engagement with the Atlantic, all of Europe was transformed by the exchanges—demographic, social, cultural, ecological, economic, just to name a few—generated by this new contact zone. These European Atlantic worlds were diverse and changing spheres of activity, influenced by numerous factors within Europe and forged through intimate, extensive, and shifting patterns of contact with native inhabitants of the Americas and Africa. The reading suggestions provided here do not represent a comprehensive guide to the creation of this multifaceted Atlantic world. Scholars who are interested in pursuing questions related to specific spheres of Atlantic engagement (European, African, and American) or the multiple phenomena that crisscrossed them can find other relevant sources (including primary source guides) that offer a more detailed perspective on distinct but overlapping component parts of the complex Atlantic world.

Article.  9803 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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