Portuguese Atlantic World

John M. Monteiro and Susanne Lachenicht

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online April 2011 | | DOI:
Portuguese Atlantic World

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


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The development of Portuguese navigation, trade, colonization, and intercultural exchange played a key role in the shaping of an Atlantic world. Beginning in the first half of the 15th century, small streams of merchants, migrants, and missionaries issued from the small kingdom at the extreme southwestern edge of Christendom, establishing footholds among native peoples along the Atlantic coast of Africa and settling several previously uninhabited islands. By the mid-17th century, the rapid expansion of sugar production along the Atlantic coast of Brazil and the corresponding growth of the transoceanic slave trade laid the foundations of a South Atlantic system, binding together South America and parts of Central and Southern Africa in an ongoing circulation of peoples, objects, plants, styles, religious practices, and forms of knowledge. At the close of the 17th century, the discovery of gold in Brazil sent new waves of migrants across the Atlantic, both voluntary (from Portugal) and forced (from Africa). In 1808 Napoleon invaded Portugal and the Portuguese monarchy set sail for Rio de Janeiro, shifting the center of the Lusophone Atlantic to South America. Following Brazilian independence in 1822, in spite of the force of Abolitionism throughout the Atlantic, the slave trade between Portuguese Africa (especially Angola and Mozambique) and Brazil reached alarming levels before finally coming to an end, shortly after the Eusébio de Queiroz Law of 1850. In this sense, while much of the current bibliography emphasizes transatlantic connections, interaction, and exchange, it should be remembered that a large part of Portuguese Atlantic history involves brutal processes of separation, exploitation, and destruction. After all, Portuguese overseas activities and policies contributed directly to two of the greatest demographic catastrophes in human history: the vertiginous decline of Amerindian populations and the mass deportation of millions of slaves from Africa to a new world. Nonetheless, as scholars of Portuguese expansion to Africa, Asia, and America have shown, the history of the Lusophone world is also that of diverse peoples and polities who engaged the Portuguese as allies, enemies, and colonial masters. They, too, contributed in significant ways to shaping the Portuguese Atlantic world, which rarely resulted in the form prescribed or even imagined by the Portuguese themselves.

Article.  7740 words. 

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

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