South Atlantic

Mariana P. Candido

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
South Atlantic

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


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The Atlantic south of the equator line was the most active economic hub in the early modern world, connecting Africa, the Americas, and the early colonizing European states, Portugal and Spain. Winds and ocean currents divide the Atlantic Ocean into two systems, north and south. The South Atlantic system follows the pattern of giant wheels turning counterclockwise, favoring sail from western African ports to the Americas. The South Atlantic was dominated by merchants trading with the only Portuguese colony in the New World, Brazil. And most of the people who crossed the Atlantic between 1500 and 1820 did so in the southern part. The transatlantic slave trade, the largest forced migration in history, affected the region profoundly, in part because most of the African slaves exported from Africa (over 5.6 million people, around 45 percent), left from a single region, West Central Africa. Over 44 percent of all African slaves who survived the Middle Passage landed in Brazilian ports, that is 5.5 million individuals. Yet, most of the debate on Atlantic history centers on the North Atlantic, heavily dominated by British merchants until the 19th century. The study of Atlantic history, although clearly moving away from political boundaries and characterized by flexibility and fluidity, is very much restricted due to language barriers. South Atlantic and the history of slave trade, slavery, and Native American populations have been excluded from classic Atlantic works, such as Jacques Godechot’s Histoire de l‘Atlantique and Michael Kraus’s The Atlantic Civilization: Eighteenth-Century Origins. Recently, historians have readdressed these problems and started to introduce Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean into the Atlantic debate. Scholars focusing on the Lusophone South Atlantic, the Atlantic nominally under Portuguese control, have shown the singularities of the connections in the southern part of the ocean. One of the characteristics of the South Atlantic system is the irrelevance of the idea of Triangular Trade that dominated north of the equator. Since the 1970s historians, such as Philip Curtin, Fernando Novais, Joseph Miller, John K. Thornton, Stuart Schwartz, A. J. R. Russell-Wood, and Mary Karasch, among others, have emphasized that in the South Atlantic, bilateral trade between commercial elites in the Americas and Africa prevailed, excluding the participation of the European partners. Although the Portuguese crown regulated and taxed trade, merchants based in Brazil dominated the Atlantic commerce.

Article.  6552 words. 

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

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