Skip to main content

The Idea of Atlantic History

  • Bernard Bailyn

When I was invited to participate in the conference marking the twentieth anniversary of Leiden's Centre for Overseas Expansion and to contribute to the conference's retrospection of recent scholarship on the history of overseas expansion, I happily agreed. And I agreed specifically to contribute a paper on what was rather casually, I think, called ‘The Atlantic in the Ancien Régime’. Since I had been working, one way and another, in that area for a long time, I expected no difficulty in writing up a reasonable paper. But the more I thought about the subject, and the more I reviewed what had been done in recent studies of ‘the Atlantic in the Ancien Régime’ the more mysterious and interesting the question became and the more strongly I was led back to earlier antecedents in the literature. I had a growing feeling that something strange had happened, something that, oddly enough, I had myself been involved in without knowing it, something that I was in fact attempting to formulate in connection with an international seminar on Atlantic history that I will be directing over the next few years.

Hide All


1 Howe, Daniel W., American History in an Atlantic Context (Oxford 1993); Games, Alison F., ‘Venturers, Vagrants and Vessels of Glory: Migration from England to the Colonies under Charles I’ (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania 1992); Games, Migration and the Evolution of the British Atlantic World under Charles I’ (paper presented to the American Historical Association, 1995) 1011.

2 The New Republic (17 February 1917) 60; Steel, Ronald, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston 1980) 111; Knock, Thomas J., To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton 1992) 119120, 127, 201.

3 Davis, Forrest, The Atlantic System (New York 1941) xi.

4 Lippmann, Walter, US War Aims (Boston 1944) 78, 87; Steel, Lippmann, 339, 380, 404 ff.

5 Hoffman, Ross, ‘Europe and the Atlantic Community’, Thought 20 (1945) 25, 34. For his approach to the formulation of 1945, see his The Great Republic (New York 1942) chap. 6. On Hoffman, see Allitt, Patrick, Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950–1985 (Ithaca 1993) 4958. I wish to thank Professor John McGreevy for suggestions on the role of Catholic intellectuals in the public policy debates of this era and Professor Allitt for allowing me to see the manuscript of his forthcoming book, The Convert Era in Catholic Intellectual History; Britain and America, 1825–1962, which includes valuable information on Carlton Hayes.

6 Hayes, Carlton J.H., ‘The American Frontier – Frontier of What?’, American Historical Review 51/2 (1946) 206, 210, 208, 213.

7 Allitt, Convert Era (MS), chap. 8, 36.

8 Bellot, H. Hale, ‘Atlantic History’, History 31 (1946) 6162.

9 Palmer, Robert R., ‘American Historians Remember Jacques Godechot’, French Historical Studies 61 (1990) 882; Godechot, , Histoire de L'Atlantique (Paris 1947) 1, 2, 332–333; Parkinson, C.N., History 34 (n.s.; 1949) 260. Five years later Godechot was still thinking of the Atlantic in narrow terms, as the source of economic problems for French coastal towns that led to grievances and appeals for help from the national government on the eve of the Revolution. Godechot, , ‘La France et les Problèmes de l'Atlantique à la Veille de la Revolution’, Revue du Nord 39/142 (1954) 231244.

10 Kraus, Michael, The Atlantic Civilization: Eighteenth-Century Origins (Ithaca 1966) viii, 308314; Godinho, Vitorino Margalhaes, ‘Problèmes d'Economie Atlantique: Le Portugal, les Flottes du Sucre et les Flottes de l'Or (1670–1770)’, Annales ESC 5/2 (1950) 184197; Silberschmidt, Max, “Wirtschaftshistorische Aspekte der Neueren Geschichte: Die Atlantische Gemeinschaft’, Historische Zeitschrifi 171 (1951) 245261; Huguette, and Chaunu, Pierre, ‘Economie Atlantique. Economie Mondiale (1504–1650): Problèmes de Fait et de Mélhode’, Journal of World History 1 (1953) 91104 (English translation in Earle, Peter ed., Essays in European History, 1500–1800 (Oxford 1974) 113126); Huguette, and Chaunu, Pierre, Séville et l'Atlantique (1504–1650) I (Paris 1955) ix.

11 Verlinden, Charles, ‘Les Origines Coloniales de la Civilisation Atlantique’, Journal of World History 1 (1953) 378, 398, 383.

12 Culminating in his comprehensive work, Les Origines de la Civilisation Atlantique, de la Renaissance à l'Age des Lumierès (Paris 1966).

13 Palmer, ‘American Historians Remember Godechot’, 882; Palmer, , ‘The World Revolution of the West, 1763–1801’, Political Science Quarterly 69 (1954) 4; Palmer, ‘Reflections on the French Revolution”, ibid., 57 (1952) 66.

14 Godechot, Jacques and Palmer, Robert R., ‘Le Problème de l'Atlantique du XVIIIème au XXème Siècle’, Relazioni del X Congresso Inlenazionale di Scienze Storiche, Storia Contemporanea V (Florence 1955) 175177, 180, 202, 208, 207, 204, 216–219, 238.

15 Palmer, “American Historians Remember Jacques Godechot’, 882–883.

16 After noting that ‘each generation finds its historical questions set, to an extent, by its current problems’ and that ‘the history of the West Indies in the nineteenth century is brought into a new focus by the experience of Africa in the twentieth’, Curtin introduced his dissertation on Jamaica by explaining how the ‘South Atlantic System’ had operated for two centuries and what its breakup meant. But in its substance the book is a model of monographic scholarship, free of any tendentious ‘relevance’. Curtin, Philip, Two Jamaicas: The Role of Ideas in a Tropical Colony, 1830–1865 (Cambridge MA 1955) viii, 46.

17 Bailyn, , ‘The Challenge of Modern Historiography’, American Historical Review 87/1 (1982) 1118.

18 Chaunu, , Séville et l' Atlantique VlII/I (Paris 1959) xiii, 5, 7–8, 12–16; Cardozo, Manoel review, American Historical Review 68/2 (1963) 437438; Roland Hussey review, ibid., 63/3 (1958) 731.

19 Bailyn, , Voyagers to the West (New York 1986) 2426; Choquette, Leslie, ‘Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French North America”, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 104/1 (1994) 30.

20 Bailyn, , The Peopling of British North America (New York 1986) chap. 1.

21 Menard, Russell R., ‘British Migration to the Chesapeake Colonies in the Seventeenth Century’, Carr, Lois G. et al. eds, Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill 1988) 99132; Galenson, David W., While Servitude in Colonial America (Cambridge UK 1981) esp. appendixes H—I.

22 Bailyn, Voyagers, esp. chap. 5.

23 Choquette, , “French Emigration to Canada in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ (Doctoral dissertation; Harvard University 1988), summarized in Choquette, ‘Frenchmen into Peasants’; Peter Boyd-Bowman, ‘Spanish Emigrants to the Indies, 1595–1598: Á Profile’, and Magnus Mōrner, ‘Spanish Migration to the New World prior to 1810: A Report on the State of the Research’ in: Fredi Chiappelli, ed., First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old II (Berkeley 1976) 723782; Bowman, Boyd, Patterns of Spanish Emigration to the New World (1493–1580) (Buffalo 1973).

24 Walker, Mack, The Salzburg Transaction: Expulsion and Redemption in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Ithaca 1992) 140; Jones, George F., The Salzburger Story (Athens GA 1984).

25 Menard, ‘British Migration’, 116 and Table 5; McCusker, John J. and Menard, Russell R., The Economy of British America, 1607–1789 (Chapel Hill 1985) 119128, 135; Lovejoy, Paul E. and Nicholas, Rogers eds, Unfree Labour in the Development of the Atlantic World (Ilford 1994).

26 Gemery, Henry A. and Hogendorn, Jan S. eds, The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York 1979); Solow, Barbara L. ed., Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System (Cambridge UK 1991) 1. Cf. Curtin, Two Jamaicas.

27 Bailyn, , The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge MA 1955) 8791; Tolles, Frederick B., Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia, 1682–1763 (reprint; New York 1963) 8995; Doerflinger, Thomas M., A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill 1986) 61.

28 Rink, Oliver A., Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York (Ithaca 1986) chap. 7.

29 Davis, , Rise of the Atlantic Economies (London 1973); Hancock, , Citizens of the World (Cambridge UK 1995).

30 Price, Jacob M., The Tobacco Adventure to Russia: Enterprise, Politics, and Diplomacy in the Quest for a Northern Market for English Colonial Tobacco, 1676–1722, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society LI/I (n.s.; 1961).

31 Clark, John G., La Rochelle and the Atlantic Economy during the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore c. 1981); Clemens, Paul G., The Atlantic Economy and Colonial Maryland's Eastern Shore: From Tobacco to Grain (Ithaca 1980); Sacks, David H., The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy, 1450–1700 (Berkeley 1991); Morgan, Kenneth, Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge UK 1993); Knight, Franklin W. and Liss, Peggy K. eds, Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture, and Satiety in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850 (Knoxville 1991).

32 Sarfatti, Magali, Spanish Bureaucratic-Palrimonialism in America (Berkeley 1966); Bailyn, , The Origins of American Politics (New York 1968) esp. vii–ix.

33 Haring, Clarence H., The Spanish Empire in America (New York 1947) chaps. 4–8, 345–347; Lockhart, James and Schwartz, Stuart B., Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil (Cambridge UK 1983) 102106, 125–132, 315–327; Burkholder, Mark A. and Johnson, Lyman L., Colonial Latin America (New York 1990) 7183, 301–306, 325–326, 329–331.

34 Henretta, James A., ‘Salutary Neglect’: Colonial Administration under the Duke of Newcastle (Princeton 1972) 220221.

35 Olson, Alison G., Making the Empire Work: London and American Interest Groups, 1690–1790 (Cambridge MA 1991) xiii.

36 Webb, Stephen S., The Governors-General: The English Army and the Definition of the Empire, 1569–1681 (Chapel Hill 1979) xviii; Cf. Webb, , Lord Churchill's Coup: The Anglo-American Empire and the Glorious Revolution Reconsidered (New York 1995).

37 For a vivid example of the influence of European foreign relations on domestic affairs in America, see Higonnet, Patrice Louis-René, ‘The Origins of the Seven Years’ War’, Journal of Modern History 40 (1968) 5790. For the general loss of American influence on the eve of the Revolution, see Kammen, Michael G., A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution (Ithaca 1968) chaps. 10–15. For an early example of ambitions frustrated, see Lockridge, Kenneth A., The Diary, and Life, of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674–1744 (Chapel Hill 1987); for later examples, Schutz, John A., ‘Succession Politics in Massachusetts, 1730–1741’, William and Mary Quarterly 15 (3rd series; 1958) 508520; Schutz, , William Shirley (Chapel Hill 1961) esp. 168 ff.

38 Pocock, J.G.A., ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject’, Journal of Modern History 47 (December 1975) 606; Pocock, , ‘The Limits and Divisions of British History: In Search of an Unknown Subject’, American Historical Review 87/2 (1982) 336; Schochet, Gordon J. ed., Empire and Revolutions: Papers Presented at lite Folger Seminar ‘Political Thought in the English-Speaking Atlantic, 1760–1800’ (Washington DC 1993).

39 Steele, Ian K., The English Atlantic 1675–1740 (New York 1986) viii–ix, 273, 278; Horn, James, Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill 1994) viii, 16. For an earlier example of Horn's theme, applied to Massachusetts, see Allen, David G., In English Ways: The Movement of Societies and the Transferal of English Local Law and Custom to Massachusetts Bay in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill 1981).

40 Meinig, D.W., The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History I: Atlantic America, 1492–1800 (New Haven 1986) 4, 65.

41 Altman, Ida, Emigrants and Society: Extremadura and America in the Sixteenth Century (Berkeley 1989) 276; Roeber, A.G., Palatines, liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America (Baltimore 1993) 46 ff.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0165-1153
  • EISSN: 2041-2827
  • URL: /core/journals/itinerario
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed