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The transformation of the Atlantic World, 1776-1867

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This essay surveys recent overviews of Atlantic history and follows up on the encounters theme to provide a clearer view of how the Atlantic World was transformed from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries and how its history might be distinguished from global history. The Atlantic World was the world made by encounters among Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans wherever they occurred on all four continents and at sea. It began with Columbus and three related developments occurring from 1776 to 1867 led to its transformation by the middle third of the nineteenth century: (1) revolution and independence in the Americas, (2) the end of the Atlantic slave trade, and (3) expanded European colonization of Africa. By pushing the end or transformation of the Atlantic World farther into the nineteenth century than most Atlantic historians have done, it becomes clearer how closely related revolutions and national liberation movements were to the end of the slave trade (and in many areas slavery itself). Further, tracing the course of these developments through the middle third of the nineteenth century reveals how the changing relationship between Europe and Africa influenced the transformation of the Atlantic World, something previous Atlantic historians have not fully considered. Many of the distinguishing features of the Atlantic World and the modern relevance of this subject lie in the paradoxes of slavery and freedom, and conquest and liberty (as well as opportunity) that developed during this era, and the tensions that evolved around these paradoxes during the era of transformation.
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Keywords: African colonization; Atlantic World; emancipation; encounters; revolutions; transformations

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2009

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