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Atlantic History: The Twitter Feeds


If you’ve been following me on Twitter you will no doubt be aware that I have been running a free online seminar course: The Trans-Atlantic Word – An Introduction.  The class has so far been a great success with some wonderful students taking part in the live discussions which I have ‘live tweeted’ throughout.  As I have not yet had a chance to release the audio from the classes here are the twitter feeds from the first three seminars.  Please bear in mind that the nature of the class (it is an introduction to a very big subject) combined with twitter’s 140 character limit placed a significant restriction on how much I could share and how much detail I could go into! For more info please follow me on Twitter (@ThatHistorian) or if you want to take part in the seminar send me an email via the contact page on this site.


Class One: An Introduction to the Atlantic World

To Download the Historic Sources Discussed in Class One from iTunes Click Here

To Listen to the Historical Sources Discussed in Class One Click Here


  • Sometimes a change in perspective is the most important thing anyone interested in the field of history can do. Such a change can…
  • …give a new personal or philosophical insight; they can suggest new ways of looking at old problems; and they can suggest completely new ways to interpret the past.
  • In my experience, people often look at the past through a national lens, projecting modern ideas about nations, states, and countries back into the past
  • Of course, national histories have their place but they are not the be all and end all of history
  • Indeed, sometimes they can distract from the most important experiences which did the most to shape the world of our ancestors
  • The modern world can guide us to look at the past from a very narrow perspective & knowing that can help to take a much needed step back
  • A change in perspective, then, can help us to re-evaluate the lessons we take from history and that is what Atlantic History does best, IMO
  • It can be easy to think about the twentieth and twenty first centuries as the age of Globalisation but that is not true
  • In the early modern Atlantic World Europe, America, and Africa were all connected by a flow of people, goods, and ideas
  • For example, by the 18th century Native Americans had become consumers of European goods…
  • …They might exchange beaver pelts for spices which had come through Europe from the Far East or cloth spun in European cities and towns
  • Musical and religious traditions from Africa were transplanted into the very culture of those who traded in slaves from that continent
  • The Atlantic Ocean was not a barrier after Columbus’s voyage to the New World. Instead it connected distant continents


Class Two: Slavery in the Atlantic World

To Download the Historic Source Discussed in Class Two from iTunes Click Here

To Listen to the Historical Source Discussed in Class One Click Here


  • Thomas Jefferson once described slavery as a “peculiar institution”
  • Jefferson struggled with the issue of slavery throughout his life; never really reconciled it to his own beliefs and life
  • An open question for your consideration: which came first for Africans: slavery or racism?
  • Did racism justify enslaving Africans or did their enslavement become justified by developing racism?
  • For a great discussion on this see Winthrop D. Jordan’s book “White Over Black” – a must read for development of racism
  • The Early Development of Slavery…
  • Capture of Constantinople in 1204 (4th Crusade) gives Europeans access to Baltic slave markets
  • Slave comes from “Slav” – reflects importance of this region to medieval ideas of slavery
  • Europeans eager consumers of sugar; difficult, back breaking product, required substantial labour
  • Still, little use for slaves in Europe.  Serfdom provides sufficient labour
  • Slavery in the ancient world (Roman Empire, etc) helps to justify slavery later though the institutions were quite different
  • Slavery in early modern period produces a range of moral and legal questions for Europeans: Could one Christian hold another in bondage (e.g.)
  • “Un-freedom” a long tradition in Europe. Tenant farmers tied to land by Emperor Constantine in AD 332. Basis of serfdom
  • The plague decimates Europe but gives survivors greater bargaining power to deal with their lords
  • Indentured Servants help fill labour shortage in New World. Some similarities to slavery, but NOT the same
  • Sugar production by Europeans begins to take off in 15th century – creates a demand for labour in places like Madeira
  • Portuguese begin sugar cultivation in Brazil draws upon African slave markets already being exploited
  • Why are Native Americans not utilized in a widespread way by Europeans? Why bring slaves from another continent?
  • Native Americans were decimated by disease, also, they tended to escape; not a reliable source of labour for sugar
  • The demand for labour to satisfy European sweet tooth helps to expand existing African slave trade
  • Slavery, as an institution, develops over time. In 17th c. In British colonies the status of slaves was not certain
  • This was a period of gradual change until slavery took on more definite limits and definitions
  • Source case study: The Narrative of Olaudah Equiano..
  • Olaudah Equiano, born c. 1745 – his memoir becomes an abolitionist classic, but is it reliable?
  • Who was Equiano’s narrative written for? Who was its intended audience, how might this have shaped it?
  • How does Equiano’s Christian world view find expression in the source?
  • Evidence suggests Equiano might not have been born in Africa. Is his source still valuable, if that is the case?
  • Controversy over Equiano’s place of birth is a reminder that sources must be treated with scepticism and care
  • Equiano’s source, regardless of he was where born, tells us a lot about the abolitionist movement in the late 18th c.


Class Three: Europe and America

To Download the Historic Sources Discussed in Class Three from iTunes Click Here

To Listen to the Historical Sources Discussed in Class Three Click Here


  • Expeditions to the New World were linked to the desire for economic gain; Europeans hoped to turn a profit on the venture
  • Hernando de Soto’s conquest of the Incas saw massive wealth brought to himself, his followers, and to Spain
  • But it was a disaster for the indigenous population of South America who suffered defeat and European diseases…
  • … De Soto was a successful as he was brutal.
  • Following his successes in South America, de Soto engaged in one of the great, epic explorations of North America
  • Exploring North America, De Soto encountered a survivor from a failed expedition. Juan Ortiz became a guide and translator
  • If any one word can be ascribed to the Americas at this time then surely that word must be change
  • Disease, trade, migration, and war all served to radically alter the cultural landscape of the continent
  • De Soto had encountered peoples who lived in dense populations with complex hierarchies…
  • …A century later, the English encountered a peoples greatly changed; sources show population collapse and cultural change on a significant scale
  • Native Americans hit by waves of European disease. With no prior resistance, the effects were catastrophic
  • Disease disrupted the passing of information, ideas, knowledge and custom from one generation to the next
  • As a result, Native American groups had to adapt and change as disease removed not only people but knowledge
  • … America was not just a New World for Europeans.
  • Life in Chesapeake Bay very different from life back home or in New England…
  • … Population mainly male, mainly poor indentured servants. 1/4 die in first year following arrival
  • Few women mean there are fewer opportunities to start a family; need to establish one’s self with land, etc
  • Young men in Chesapeake Bay appear to have little attachment to community – violence relatively common
  • In addition to a skewed gender ratio, the age ratio is also skewed with few elderly or children
  • How do we explain the early violence between English and Indians which John Smith described?
  • The erection of a cross was a cross a symbolic way of expressing control over the land
  • What does Smith’s account tell us about the role played by women in Native American society?
  • Based on Smiths 1608 account, does early Virginia sound particularly settled of civilized?
  • Could Jamestown have survived without Indian intervention?
  • Pocahontas’s role is much smaller in Smith’s original account. Why was it later embellished?

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