- Atlantic Worlds
As intellectual category and strategy, the Atlantic continues to provide a fruitful and malleable theme. There is room, of course, for a measure of skepticism. Indeed, the naval historian Nicholas Rodger once remarked to me that Atlantic history was history with the Atlantic left out. It is certainly the case that not all Atlanticists appear to understand ships, winds, and currents. [End Page 107]
There have also been suggestions that a focus on the Atlantic concerns and links of the European powers can lead to an underplaying of their concerns within Europe, and has indeed done so. A similar point can be made about Africa, and a tendency to downplay developments within that continent due to a focus on its Atlantic roles, notably as a source for slaves. History understood from the coast into the interior tends to come with a powerful framework of assumptions.
Moreover, there is a political dimension. Within America, there was to be a reaction against the coastal focus of the colonial legacy. In Europe, the European Union can be seen in part as a reaction against the global trading patterns and interests of the Atlantic powers.
However, allowing for these and other caveats and issues, the stress on the Atlantic, and on the worlds enacted over and along it, has proved very helpful. Scholarship has operated on a number of different but overlapping levels. The study of Atlantic worlds has brought new energy to the investigation of the European maritime empires. There has also been a valuable comparative focus, with the Atlantic dimension encouraging a consideration of the British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish empires and Atlantics as instructive variants on a common theme.
The focus on Atlantic worlds also has led to a greater emphasis on the interactive character of the colonial bond, and on the number of constituencies involved, including those not formally imperial subjects. As a result, the study of Atlantic worlds is readily open to transnational stories, concerns, and methods. This is notably so with the history of migration, whether voluntary or coerced—the latter most obviously the case with the slave trade, but also, for example, with convicts.
The books under review here reflect the range of subjects encompassed within the wider category, and also the way in which Atlantic history can serve to help locate and evaluate developments in places that are frequently underplayed. The variety of the world being made and remade by Europeans (and others) emerges clearly, and this variety underlines the extent to which it is not helpful to think in terms of inevitable patterns.
Linda Rupert’s important, scholarly, and well-written study of the society, culture, and economy of Curaçao under the Dutch West India Company (1634–1791) clearly indicates the extent to which nodal points within the Atlantic system not only played a key role in the development and texture of this system, but were also in turn shaped by it. Curaçao was significant because of its commercial role, notably through illicit trade with Spanish America. This created opportunities for other types of intercolonial exchanges, from architecture to ideas. The resulting activity and profitability encouraged immigration into Curaçao, both voluntary and involuntary. As a consequence, Willemstad, the major town, had a...