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Book Review


Mancke, Elizabeth and Carole Shammas, eds., The Creation of the British Atlantic World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 2005). 400pp., $52.00.

     The field of Atlantic History is pervaded with a tension that exists between traditional imperial historians who view the contours of the Atlantic world as a derivative of competing European imperial states, and those who recognize the involvement of myriad of subnational groups driven by commercial, religious and other motives in creating a transatlantic theater. This tension has no easy or immediate solution. Scholarship dealing with the empirical details of the relation between these two views can perhaps shed more light on the processes involved in creating an Atlantic world. Processes emanate from both imperial motives and subnational workings but they also permeate each other and transcend both. While several recent works have dealt with this tension and have increasingly analyzed the processes of creation of the transatlantic world, any solution to this tension is still far from being resolved. Meanwhile, The creation of the British Atlantic World rejuvenates this debate and provides 'some clues as to the relationship of one to the other.' (15) The edited volume has thirteen chapters divided in three parts: Transatlantic Subjects ° which deals with the social groups and individuals involved in transatlantic migrations; Transatlantic Connections ° which explores the processes and institutions that integrated the shores of the ocean basin; and Imperial Visions and Transatlantic Revisions ° where issues of imperial involvement in creating the British Atlantic are taken up. These three sections are preceded by an introduction by Carole Shammas.

     Shammas brings out some of the limitations of the Atlantic approach by citing works from recent historiography that deny the existence of one Atlantic. Three Atlantic sub-regions are identified: a North European Atlantic, a Spanish Atlantic, and a Portuguese Atlantic. In this view, throwing the whole Atlantic together into one frame of historical analysis by ignoring the divisions between Anglophone and Lusophone Atlantics is at best problematic. This limitation perhaps also justifies singling out one Atlantic from the many Atlantics in recent researches. Shammas posits, 'Atlantic history carries fewer presuppositions about cultural hierarchies and displays more openness to multidirectional efforts.' (2) Further, as recent investigations have shown, the early modern transatlantic experiences cannot be contained within the terminology and processes of the British Empire, and the very conceptualization of the 'British Empire' was probably not achieved before the Glorious Revolution. The relation between imperial authorities and the subnational participants in the Atlantic theater was at best ambivalent and therefore the transatlantic communities and even Company settlements in Asia 'were on their own.' In this regard, remaining confined within the imperial historical frameworks provides a narrow picture of the Atlantic world. Shammas argues that a much more nuanced perspective on the imperial/ subnational debate is gained when one evaluates the roles of a 'militant Protestant expansionist network' from the late 16th century onwards. This group comprised of London merchants and 'West Country gentlemen' pursued a vigorous foreign policy involving areas outside Europe. Although initially this constituted an alternative policy, it actually became the official policy during the Interregnum and continued to be so for the later Stuart period. This perception forces one to view early modern colonization as intrinsically entwined with the English polity, albeit guided only by an influential section of it. (6)

     James Horn and Philip Morgan offer some fresh insight into the comparative aspects of European and African migrations in the early modern period. In the first chapter of Part I, Horn and Morgan ask 'to what extent, if at all, did Europeans and Africans undergo a similar process of creolization?' (20) In trying to answer this question, the authors undertake a reevaluation of the statistics of migration and argue that although African emigration far outnumbered European emigration (more than 3 to 1), the rate of emigration as a proportion of homeland populations was similar, which was about 2 to 3 per 1000. Migration into the British Americas altered the identities of both Africans and Europeans, but in a dissimilar way. The idea and development of nation-state was much more advanced in early modern Europe when compared to Africa, and this affected the new identities that were created, forged and negotiated in the new world. The Europeans experienced a strengthening of national identities, while the Africans experienced 'ethnogenesis' rather than a rise of any strong feeling of national identity. (42) The mixing, intermingling and borrowing of traditions, language and practices led to creolized societies involving and incorporating both Africans and Europeans.

     In the next chapter, Joyce Chaplin argues that 'the narrative of American history is incomplete without the story of Indian slavery.' (70) Through analysis of secondary works and a few primary sources, Chaplin recognizes the importance of Indian slavery and slave trade in terms of cultural consequences as well as debates on the political status of Indians. Mark L. Thompson in the next chapter discusses the manifold contested processes that contributed towards the creation of the English Atlantic through an analysis of the correspondences of Thomas Yong. Captain Yong, a Catholic Englishman, left London in 1634 under the command of Charles I to reach and colonize the Delaware River. Yong's authority owed its origins to his allegiance to the English crown, and held good in all four contested spaces ° metropolitan London, colonial Virginia, in disputes with Dutch settlers and in negotiations with the Indians. Yong's particular case shows a fusion of personal and political spaces, while Thompson posits 'social actors' in the Atlantic were characterized by diverse roles and identities often resulting in collaboration even within contested spaces.

     In the following chapter, David Barry Gaspar discusses an Atlantic incident from 1724 in Antigua, where a group of 27 black Cape Verdeans were repatriated when they claimed 'an identity connected to their status as subjects of the Portuguese crown.' (114) As Gaspar reveals, the intricately intersecting nature of different commercial and political interests in the Atlantic necessitated a recognition of national ties and interests, and the English authorities in Antigua did not think it would be prudent to disregard the Cape Verdeans' plea that 'they were freemen, Christians, and subjects of the King of Portugal, and could not be sold as slaves.' (111) In the final chapter of this section, Ray Kea relates the case of Marotta/ Magdalena, a literate bilingual Christian woman from West Africa who was Catholic in her Popo homeland, but became converted to Moravian pietism in the island of St. Thomas. While in the Bight of Benin she lived as a free citizen and could practice any religion. In St. Thomas, although she became free, the planters made it difficult for her and other Moravians to practice their own faith. In this situation, Marotta/ Magdalena appealed to the Danish-Norwegian Queen. Her appeal was aimed at achieving the same kind of religious freedom she enjoyed in her Popo homeland and thus is best seen as a personal endeavor towards a religious cause. Nonetheless, the fact that she had to (or chose to) write to a Queen in Europe reveals the ambiguities and vicissitudes that mark the story of imperial-subnational tension, a theme that ties the volume together.

     The chapters in part two bring out the range of conversations and interactions of transatlantic institutions that forged an Atlantic world together. April Lee Hatfield examines the roles of mariners in 'facilitating transatlantic and intercolonial communication.' (158) The mariners explicitly integrated a maritime Atlantic world through intricate relations with settlers, bringing them news and views from all across the Atlantic and Europe. The settlers could find themselves in 'residence' in the Atlantic because of the pivotal role played by the mariners. William Offutt, in the next chapter, investigates the legal systems in the British Atlantic and recognizes that it differed from metropolitan legal inheritances. Yet the law codes were not simplified local versions but reflected a complex process of assimilation that ultimately marked a triumph of the metropolitan legal process. In the face of rapid and diverse changes in the colonial setting, 'the legal component clearly fixed a palpable limit to social disorientation.' (180) In the following chapter, Avihu Zakai looks into Jonathan Edwards' reaction to metropolitan Enlightenment thoughts, especially his views on new modes in ethics and historical thoughts in 18th century Britain. Zakai reveals that the formation of the American self was guided to a great extent by rejection of Enlightenment-guided metropolitan thoughts. In this, Edwards played a central role in shaping American Protestantism, and the legacy of his criticisms of British Enlightenment forms one facet of American identity. In the final chapter in this section, Wolfgang Splitter examines the German Lutheran church in 18th century Pennsylvania and reveals how Lutheran missionaries, instead of competing with the Anglican Church, cooperated on a transatlantic level and thus, in effect, helped establish the British Atlantic world. Trying to adapt themselves to the legal framework in America, the Lutherans in Pennsylvania slowly moved away from their progenitor Hallensian conservatism. At the same time, a separation from traditional conviction left the evangelists in a dilemma, especially after the Revolution when they discovered that the Hallensian version had also undergone Enlightenment-informed transitions. In a desperate measure, the old generation evangelists claimed true Lutheranism to be a version aligned with German Lutheran ethnic identity, a direction that was prompted by a large section of German-Americans who valued their integration in the new world to be more important than parochial ethnoreligious separatism. (234)

     The final section takes up more explicit undertakings of the empire in the Atlantic world. Elizabeth Mancke in the opening chapter investigates the royally chartered enterprises that granted political legitimacy to individual entrepreneurship outside Europe. Traditionally, historians have treated the period between the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763 and British recognition of American independence in 1783 as a pivotal period creating a gulf between the phases of the First and Second British Empires. Mancke problematizes this vision by examining the long political processes of imperial evolution through the lens of chartered enterprises. While the chartered enterprises were phased out by the end of the 18th century, conquests made during the Seven Years' War made it necessary to decide administration and accommodation of non-British people within the Empire. The continuation of Hudson's Bay Company and the East India Company well into the 19th century is best seen as a nervous attempt made by the Empire to gradually incorporate new realities through the mediations of these companies. In the final chapter of the book, Karin Wulf explores transatlantic genealogies in colonial America and notes that even during this period of intense antagonism between Britain and America, it was profitable to be able to trace British ancestry in the colonial setting. Wulf argues that 'kinship was the primary form of connection among early modern people╔ (and) in the eighteenth century╔may have become more significant.' (305) Wulf bases her work primarily on Deborah Norris Logan's genealogical diary that gives a unique perspective on Philadelphia Quakers and brings out a connection between lineage and political vicissitudes of the era.

     In all, the chapters in the book provide a multi-faceted perspective on the agents and processes of change that gradually forged an Atlantic world. Some of the contributions reveal the importance that empire and imperial strategies played in creating a transatlantic scenario, while others provide evidence to highlight much more nuanced and subtle processes working at a subnational level. The guiding theoretical debate provided by the introduction to the volume ° a tension in the academia between views that see empire or subnational agencies in creating the Atlantic world ° is enriched through individual contributions. Yet the volume is incomplete without a conclusion. The data and insight gained from the individual chapters can be synthesized to provide a much deeper analysis of the imperial/ subnational debate. In the absence of a conclusion, I wish to revisit Carole Shammas' introductory chapter to the volume for one final remark. Shammas argues that 'another shortcoming with the Atlantic paradigm is the increasing tendency over the early modern period for activities in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans to merge, a situation that the framework of imperial history accommodates more handily than does Atlantic history.' (2) It seems to me that such integration of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean basins is a phenomenon that can be dealt with more adequately in World History than through 'the framework of imperial history.' To me, this omission of a discussion on the relationship between concepts and processes of World History with the Atlantic paradigm is a glaring one, especially while undertaking a review for this journal. Nevertheless, let me also reiterate that the contributions to this volume constitute an important addition to the field of Atlantic history and will remain as an important resource for researchers in the field.


Amitava Chowdhury
Washington State University


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