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Book Review


Christopher Strobel, The Global Atlantic, 1400 to 1900. New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. x + 186 pp. Index, illustrations, maps.  $155.00 (cloth); $38.95 (paper).


     Christopher Strobel's The Global Atlantic, 1400 to 1900 is a brief survey of new views of Atlantic history aimed at undergraduate and graduate students. Not only does it situate the Atlantic in a global perspective, but it offers a creatively new view of the Atlantic world. Strobel sees the Atlantic as an open ocean with connections to other oceans and seas as well as to other parts of the world. In this regard he builds on Peter A. Coclanis' work in 2006 and 2009 that argues against the Atlantic historians who have viewed the Atlantic as a closed world.1

     Going beyond Coclanis, Strobel's first chapter begins by describing two separate but equally important pre-Columbian "Old Worlds" that connected the Atlantic territories of AfroEurasia and the Americas to other parts of the world. One was the eastern hemisphere Vikings who explored the north Atlantic, including parts of North America, for three hundred years, at the same time that they traded with Rus, the Byzantine empire, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe. At the same time, the Old World had several well-used trade networks that linked European ports and Genoese and Venetian trade with the Indian Ocean world. In the end, this contact with the east meant economic, cultural, and intellectual trade that brought Arabian mathematics, Arabic translations of ancient Greek texts, and eastern arts and architecture along with a growing amount of trade goods.

     Moving into the south Atlantic world Strobel begins with João I's capture of Ceuta in 1415 and the bulk of the fifteenth century marked by Portugal's slow traversing of the Atlantic coast of Africa until finally rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. This process was trade-driven, and in the process, Portugal established trade with west Africa for gold and slaves and eventually, permanent connections with local African chiefs in west central Africa. Along with this is a discussion of the African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. Staying with the Atlantic focus of the book, Strobel points to the many aspects of the African Atlantic, from local leaders who controlled much of the trade, to cowrie shells traded with India, and the introduction of manioc (cassava) from South America. There is no mention of east Africa, which fits with Strobel's Atlantic focus, but misses many aspects of African history that would be included in a world history class.

     Finally moving across to the western Atlantic, Strobel brings the trans-regional trade networks of pre-columbian America into focus. He begins with a discussion of the Moundbuilders of Cahokia and the Mississippian culture that derived from it, followed by the conquest of the Mexica (Aztec) and Inca empires. The Spanish colonization of Manila in 1571 and the establishment of annual trade of Spanish silver for Asian goods there, connected the Spanish American world with Spanish-Chinese trade, making this a global enterprise.

     In his second chapter, Strobel turns to Africa and the slave trade, placing emphasis on the islands of Atlantic Africa. The Canary and Cabo Verde islands were colonized in the fifteenth century, drawing from the beginnings of a plantation complex that was growing sugar in the Mediterranean.  Worked by slaves imported from west Africa, this sugar complex became the prototype for similar plantations in the Americas and Caribbean. Strobel emphasizes the importance of profit in the making of European colonization, and the plantation complex underlines this claim. Beyond this, Strobel emphasizes the importance of African kings in the the development of trade relations, pointing out that indigenous claims and needs took prominence in the European-African exchanges. Africa did not become a set of colonies for the western world until much later in the nineteenth century.

     The third chapter focuses on European (especially Spanish) contact with the western hemisphere, the major sector of the Atlantic system, African and Asian trade in the Pacific, being the other two. After a brief depiction of the medievally oriented Columbus, Strobel turns to the not always successful Spanish. The Spanish entries into American Indian communities and empires brought catastrophic disease, equally catastrophic European beasts and crops, and a mixing of Spanish men and American women that created a class society of castas. By the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish colonial interests turned to mining, especially the sites of Potosí and northern Mexico, which delivered huge amounts of silver. These silver-purveying centers supplied the world-Atlantic system through the Manila galleons and through specie traded with China. These pivots made Spain the wealthiest European state through the seventeenth century.

     The final chapter offers a portrayal of the global Atlantic and the extensive Indian Ocean trade networks. The Indian Ocean had supported local and regional trade for at least three thousand years before the Portuguese seriously rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. From that point until the end of the sixteenth century, Portugal established dozens of trading communities by force and occasionally by diplomacy throughout the region, from east Africa to China. These trading communities lasted until the Dutch displaced them in the late sixteenth century and English followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with their base in India. European traders shipped a wide variety of goods from the Indian Ocean over the centuries, including Indian textiles, Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea, and Indian rare gems. A good chapter that brings some aspects of world history into contact with the Atlantic world.

     The Global Atlantic is a fine book that moves Atlantic history along to some new and much-needed revisions. But this is a world history journal and the question thus becomes, how does this book contribute to world history? The answer is that it doesn't, nor was it meant to. The title, The Global Atlantic, tells us the aim of the book, which is to correct the absence of global connections in the study of the Atlantic realm. Strobel does an outstanding job of delivering on this. In fact, if I were teaching an Atlantic history class, I would assign Strobel immediately and without hesitation. It's new and it's very good. Hopefully it will lead to more work viewing the Atlantic realm less as a closed system and more like the globally connected system it was.

Ronald Schultz has done graduate work in both neuroscience and history and is now working on a project that uses tools from biology, neuroscience, and cultural evolution to better understand world history. He teaches at the University of Wyoming and may be reached at



1 Peter A. Coclanis, "Atlantic World or Atlantic/World?" William and Mary Quarterly, 63 (October 2006): 725–742. Ibid., "Beyond Atlantic History" in Atlantic History, (October 2009): 337–356.



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