- Atlantic Worlds
Atlantic history is both a trendy new topic of study and a traditional topic anchored in the history of rival European empires in the Americas. To one degree or another, all of the volumes under review aim to bridge the interpretive gap between old and new approaches to the Atlantic world. The Smolenski and Humphrey collection emerged from a conference in Philadelphia in the fall of 2001, at which the organizers encouraged participants to address common themes in a comparable framework. The result is a volume of essays concerned with the maintenance of order in multiethnic frontier societies, far from the metropolitan governments that claimed to administer them. Within the four sections of the volume, eleven chapters examine the American colonial empires of England, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, with a tight focus on localities within each of those empires. To one degree or another, all the authors use legal case studies as the departure point for their argument, providing vivid glimpses into the complex social realities of colonial societies. John Smolenski's introduction and Thomas J. Humphrey's afterword offer nuanced overviews of the volume as a whole, without making explicit comparisons among the various colonial histories.
The two chapters in Part I explore the extent to which violence helped to shape the constructed histories of colonialism. Christopher Tomlins argues that justifications for English colonialism in the age of Shakespeare relied upon notions of barbarism versus civility. Richard Price narrates three violent stories in the colonial history of the Caribbean that remain carefully nurtured in memory as triumphs against oppression.
Part II centers on the use of violence to maintain public and private authority. Kimberly Gauderman examines how women in Spanish colonial Quito used legal remedies against mistreatment by husbands and other males both inside and outside their families. In contrast, the chapters by Cécile Vidal on French Louisiana and Sharon Block on British America focus on the helplessness of slaves and women in other legal systems that favored white males.
Part III shows how legal disputes helped to define not only the territory and effective authority of a given colonial state, but also the meaning of ethnicity and culture within evolving colonial contexts. Mark Meuwese uses the 1646 murder of a German employee of the Dutch West India Company to analyze the Dutch-Portuguese struggle for control of northeast Brazil. Cynthia Radding reveals how indigenous groups in northwestern Mexico and eastern Bolivia in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries resisted ecclesiastical attempts to bring their [End Page 110] nomadic bands into settled communities. Matthew Dennis grapples with similar issues regarding the Senecas and civil authority from the end of British colonial rule in North America to the early decades of the United States.
Part IV, on race, citizenship, and colonial identity, explores the ways in which European norms of citizenship and community evolved in the colonized Americas. Tamar Herzog examines how the process of acquiring citizenship in Caracas and Buenos Aires became more exclusive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whereas Ann Twinam focuses on the legal process through which the Spanish crown exempted individuals from various impediments of birth or ancestry, thus clearing the way to political and social advancement. Regarding the slave society of eighteenth-century Saint Domingue, Gene Ogle argues that extra-legal violence defined the boundaries among racial categories. White violence against blacks was common and generally sanctioned—despite legal prohibitions—whereas black violence against whites was rare and punished with the full force of law.
The collection edited by Peter Coclanis shifts to a broader and more traditional focus on the transatlantic economy and its component parts. Nonetheless, the thirteen chapters in...