Recent Teaching Visit and Atlantic History

Cover Illustration: By the eighteenth century, the Atlantic Ocean was crisscrossed by trade routes between Europe and the Americas. Ships traveled these sea lanes carrying everything from cargo to slaves to new forms of political thought. The connections between Britain and North America have been well studied, but less attention has been paid to the commerce and competition between France, Britain, and Spain in the Caribbean basin and the South Atlantic, or to the more general traffic between Europe, Latin America, and North America. In our AHR Forum in this issue, four historians offer their views on the personal, diplomatic, and military entanglements that emerged as Spain, Britain, and France jockeyed for position in this Atlantic borderland. A New Chart of the Atlantic or Western Ocean (1797), Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. See HERE to read more about the articles in this edition of the AHR. I found this issue to be very good.

A recent visit to an independent school allowed me to meet with a number of people and teach a topic related to my interest on the impact of oceans such as the Atlantic on both European and colonial society. I have taught this before, and as my students will tell you, it is a staple in my AP European history course. I started the session off by presenting an illustration that conceptualizes the growth of European modernity and the birth of what Arnold Toynbee would call the “Industrial Revolution.”

“The Industrial Revolution” coined by Toynbee in the late 1800s and used by Marxist and socialist historians to attack “the captains of industry” and expose “the conditions of the working classes;” after World War II, conservative social scientists like Rostow used Britain as model for industrial “take-off.” Recent scholarship suggests the story not so simple; e.g. Peter Sterns

I worked to draw a conclusion on the relationship between European constitutionalism, mercantilism, geo politics, and the expansion of capitalism. Because of these factors and a number of others, the British middle class promulgated the growth of Atlantic slavery while modeling a new economic paradigm that the French bourgeoisie and nobility would desire. Unlike the traditional Marxist’s interpretation of the revolution that claimed it started as a matter of class conflict between the third estate (peasants & bourgeoisie) and the first and second estates, recent interpretations claim the revolution was a result of the Atlantic market system. Feudal lands and titles no longer carried the wealth that the Atlantic market offered. With an ancient system in existence that prevented the French nobility from prospering in this newly minted Atlantic market, the second and third estate unified to overthrow the French ancient class system.

Besides the colonial wars fought for geo-political gain in the Atlantic market, the dawn of neo slavery emerged. Paradoxically speaking, this institution heightened during a period in which the literature addressed both natural rights and racial inferiority. I believe the process of understanding European history from 1450 to 1815 rest on students’ understanding of the Atlantic market.


One thought on “Recent Teaching Visit and Atlantic History

  1. I like your approach here; I have made some attempts at this process from what you sent me. Look forawrd to you getting this published.

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