The Atlantic world is a concept used by historians to describe how the ­peoples of
the four Atlantic-­facing continents—­Europe, Africa, North Amer­i­ca, and South
Amer­ i ­ ca—­became increasingly connected following the opening of sustained, reg-
ular contact between them in the fifteenth ­ century. The pos­ si ­ ble connections among ­
people runs the gamut of ­human experiences: exploration and conquest; trade and
commerce; migration, both voluntary and forced; the growth of new ideas, iden-
tities, politics, religions, and cultures; the introduction of new plants, animals, and
diseases; the circulation of information, money, and credit; and the intermingling
of ­peoples bringing forth new ­children, new families, and new ­peoples bridging
multiple worlds.
Given the scale of Atlantic history, the pres­ent work is necessarily selective rather
than exhaustive. It emphasizes on impor­tant individuals, the men and ­women who
connected empires and nations, and who drove the events that brought dif­fer­ent
Atlantic regions together. The Encyclopedia of the Atlantic World 1400–1900: Eu­rope,
Africa, and the Amer­ i ­ cas in an Age of Exploration, Trade, and Empires highlights impor­
tant groups, stepping back from the individual to show how ­peoples have developed
over time as they come in contact with ­ others, often dif­fer­ent from themselves. This
two-­volume work also looks at the impor­tant ideas, objects, and commodities that
circulated through the Atlantic world, changing the lives of ­people who themselves
never left home. Impor­tant events are not neglected; they show history happening
and Atlantic relations changing as a result of how events, always contingent, turned
out. Impor­tant places feature prominently in the encyclopedia. Geography is vital
to understanding how a broad complex like the Atlantic world worked in practice.
Fi­nally, the encyclopedia discusses concepts, such as the Black Atlantic, that scholars
of Atlantic history confront in their work.
The Atlantic world is defined by motion, how ideas, ­ people, plants, animals, dis-
eases, and objects moved from one place, one continent, to another. In some cases,
the movement is easy to see. The slave trade, for example, forcibly removed ­ people
from Africa, reduced them to a commodity, and transported them to the Amer­ i ­ cas,
where they ­ were sold and compelled to ­ labor in the production of crops that would
then be harvested, pro­cessed, and transported to markets far away. From the Eu­ ro ­
pe­ans, financing the slave voyages and sailing the ships; to the African slave dealers
selling ­ humans into bondage to the slave markets of the Amer­ i ­ cas; to the fields of
Brazil, Haiti, and ­ Virginia and everywhere in between; to stalls of traders of tobacco,
sugar, coffee, and rum, in the Amer­ i ­ cas and beyond; to the Eu­ ro ­ pean counting ­ houses
where the revenue and costs and the total return on investment was calculated—­
the slave trade knitted together ­ every corner of the Atlantic world.
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