- The Princeton Companion to Atlantic History ed. by Joseph C. Miller et al.
The growth in the diversity and richness of the field of Atlantic history during the past three decades is reflected in The Princeton Companion to Atlantic History, which contains 128 entries on a wide array of topics. These entries include contributions from the fields of cultural, legal, religious, economic, and political history, as well as anthropological and sociological concepts relating to the often (although not always) violent interactions among people from Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The entries range from the seemingly straightforward (“Seven Years’ War,” for example) to the more literary and theoretical (“Cornucopias” and “Modernity” come to mind). They are written by 123 contributors, including some of the best and most well-known researchers in their respective fields, as well as a good number of up-and-coming scholars. The result is a comprehensive, if at times overwhelming, encyclopedia of many of the key concepts and ideas that have helped build an important, if increasingly amorphous, field called Atlantic history.
The volume begins with a prologue and four chapters written by the editor and associate editors, each contributing a brief essay covering their respective century of expertise. Each essay provides a broad overview of main themes and transformations that occurred in that given century, ranging from trade routes and commodities, to the establishment of the transatlantic slave trade, to international wars for independence. In the prologue and in the first chapter, called “The Sixteenth Century,” chief editor Joseph C. Miller emphasizes networks, connections, and interactions among Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans and the economic forces that seemed to guide their actions and choices. Miller is especially good at introducing the African dimensions to these interactions, particularly at the level of political economy. In doing so, he decenters the concept of European expansion as the driving force in creating an early modern Atlantic world. In many ways his essays set the tone for the real contribution the Companion makes to the field of Atlantic history. Throughout the volume, Africa (and not just Africa’s place in relation to the transatlantic slave trade) is placed at the center of our understanding of a number of key concepts and historical events. In addition, the editors and contributors make a concerted effort to expand the chronological scope associated with Atlantic history beyond the usual limits of the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries by including many entries and ideas that date from the nineteenth century. This more capacious chronology, made most explicit in Laurent Dubois’s essay, serves as a reminder that so many of the globalizing events of that century depended on the political, economic, social, and cultural changes of the previous three centuries. The birth of the modern world did not signal the end of the Atlantic world.
The entries themselves range from incredibly detailed essays to brief overviews, some making careful consideration of historiography and others having [End Page 651] little mention of any other scholarship. The better ones tend to follow a middle course, offering readers both a sense of narrative and an idea of the scholarly debates that have defined a particular topic. Some of the standouts in this regard include Mark Peterson’s entry on “Capitalism” and the entry on “Islam in Africa” by Rudolph T. Ware III, which manage to offer sophisticated overviews that are also accessible to nonspecialists. Other entries provide excellent presentations of dauntingly large topics, such as Melanie Newton’s entry for “Gender” and James Sidbury’s on “Race.” Some of the headings are slightly odd choices. For example, there is no entry for “piracy” or “privateering.” Instead, there is an entry for “Raiders” expertly written by Kris Lane, but this seems to be a relatively unfamiliar term for the nonspecialist. Nevertheless, with a little searching, there is much to gain from spending time with this extensive volume.
In the preface, Miller writes...