Atlantic Migration

Leslie Choquette

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Atlantic Migration

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


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Between the 16th and 19th centuries, an estimated three million Europeans and twelve million Africans crossed the Atlantic, voluntarily or by force, to colonize the Americas. The demographic impact of this migration was particularly profound north of the Rio Grande, where the population quadrupled between 1700 and 1800 while the proportion of aboriginals decreased from 85 percent to 15 percent. The magnitude of this shift, along with the growing power of the United States, explains why the first scholars of Atlantic migrations were American historians. Focusing on the minority European component of the migration, they wove Old World push factors and New World pull factors into a narrative of American exceptionalism, an immigrant’s progress to freedom and modernity. With the rise of the new social history in the 1960s and of Atlantic history in the 1980s, the practitioners of migration history diversified. Scholars of Africa, Europe, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean joined the ranks of Americanists, who themselves began questioning the founding myth. The explanatory framework favored in the early 21st century focuses on migration systems involving both free and coerced labor (and gradations thereof). Networks and communications created linkages between distinct geographic regions, fostering circulation of commodities and ideas, along with human mobility. One early-21st-century debate concerns the extent of migrant acculturation: should the emphasis be on cultural continuity or on the construction of new societies and identities? Another involves the Atlantic frame of reference, as some historians prefer to view the Atlantic migrations within a wider global context. There is consensus, even among Atlanticists, that 19th- and 20th-century population movements are best viewed as a global phenomenon. That is why this article focuses on the Atlantic world of the 16th to 19th centuries, even though European emigration to the Americas intensified in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Article.  8762 words. 

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

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