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The Atlantic World, 1450-1750: An Introduction – Free Online Seminar Series

Atlantic History

Atlantic History, c. 1450-1750: An Introduction – Digital Humanities Online Course


After some thought and a good amount of interest on twitter I am now moving towards starting a free online course which will introduce enthusiastic learners to the Atlantic World.  I have yet to pin down the exact details of the course and I will require a bit more feedback from interested participants before I can do so but here are the details of this experiment in Digital History as they currently stand, including details on how you can take part.


What topic, time period, etc, will this course cover.  Or, what on Earth is the Atlantic World?

When historians talk about the Atlantic World (or the Trans-Atlantic World) they are generally talking about subject which encompasses Early Modern Europe, Early America, and Africa.  Or, at the very least, they are talking about a subject which includes the peoples of these three locations.  So, rather than studying – say – early America in isolation, the Atlantic World takes into account the fundamental connections which bound this area to Europe and to Africa.  Similarly, rather than studying Early Modern Europe in isolation, the Atlantic World is a way of thinking about that area in a broader context which includes the American and African continents.


Another way to think about it is to picture a map of the world in your head.  Normally when I do this the map I see has Europe at its centre with the Americas on the very far left  and Russia occupying the map’s right hand side.  When thinking about the Atlantic World, imagine the map rolling towards the left until the Atlantic Ocean is the central feature.  Now when you look at the map the Americas, Africa, and Europe have become coastal regions of a vast waterway.  Remember, in the early modern period, oceans acted as the highways of the time, linking distant areas and facilitating the exchange of goods, people, and information.  In the Atlantic World, no one continent is central.  Rather, the ocean itself is the central feature as it was this body of water which linked distant lands – and distant peoples – together.


In a nutshell, then, the Atlantic World is a subject which talks about how Europe, America, and Africa were linked together and can include subjects as broad as the Enlightenment, a globalising economy, and the slave trade.  In this proposed course I am currently planning seminars which look at some of these issues in the period from c. 1450-1750.  In particular I want to explore how and why Europeans did the things they did in this new world.  Why did they explore distant lands, what led them to take up slavery, and how and why did they interact with Native Americans in the manner they did?


How will this course work?

As I said earlier, this is a bit of an experiment which sprung up from some discussions on twitter and I am currently planning to run this course via Skype.  This will allow me a chance to speak with and hear everyone who wants to take part – it will also allow you to speak and interact with one another.  That means you will have to have a microphone (many laptops with webcams will have one built in already).  Also, don’t panic if you don’t have Skype or have never used it before.  It’s a very simple piece of software.


In terms of the specific areas this course will cover, that’s still somewhat up in the air (though I hope to pin it down shortly).  I intend to have the class look at primary sources (documents from the time) which we will use as gateways or windows into the past.  As I understand how precious time can be, I will record these sources and release them as podcasts so you can listen to them as you are doing the dishes or walking the dog, etc.  I will also record these seminars and post edited versions of them in my podcast feed so that those people who cannot take part can still listen in on the classes.  Obviously, this is just a fun experiment so you won’t be getting any qualifications but I hope that learning something new and engaging with fellow learners will provide all the reward you could want.


In terms of the actual classes, these will be interactive seminars.  You will have the opportunity to talk about your thoughts on the period, share your perspective on the documents studied, and debate with your fellow online scholars.  I want to emphasise that you are not coming on Skype to hear me lecture you for an hour – I want this to be a really fun, really interactive, engaging learning experience. I will also try and involve some other academics in these seminars.  I have already had some interest from people and I think this will allow us to have some wonderful guest speakers.  At the moment I am planning on holding making this a five week course.  That’s five seminars, one per week.


Who can take part?

Anyone! There are no entry requirements and you need have no prior qualifications.  All you need is a genuine desire to learn and to take part (and a microphone).  As I said, this will be an interactive learning environment – a discussion, not a lecture.  I understand that if you have not been in education for a long time or have never gone through higher education that you might feel a bit intimidated but I want to reassure you that I want to foster a mutually supportive environment.  There are no tests, exams, or essays – and there are no such things as stupid or silly questions or comments, so don’t feel as if you won’t be able to contribute.  You may think that the calibre of your questions may not be up to the standard others might expect but understand that somewhere, someone else is thinking exactly the same thing as you and they, upon hearing the podcast, will be really grateful that you asked.


Finally, I do need to emphasise that this five week course does require some commitment on your part – the seminar group cannot be too large and places will be given on a first come, first served basis so in the name of fairness you will need to be able to commit to the full five weeks.  The exact time/day of these seminars will be decided only once I get some of the information back from the questionnaire at the end of this post but they are likely to be held on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday, sometime between 11:30am-4pm GMT (the classes will last about an hour) though I can be flexible if need be.


Ok, how do I sign up?

Please send me an email at and answer the following questions.  Once again, the answers to these questions are not an entrance exam – please answer as honestly as possible as this is the information which will allow me to pitch the course at the right level for you!

1)      Please tell me your name

2)      Year of birth (this does not need to be exact, but it will help me to get to know you a little easier)

3)      What prior education have you had in the past? When were you last in education? Are you in higher education now?

4)      What topics in history really interest you the most?

5)      Have you used Skype before?

6)      Have you already got a microphone?

7)      What time zone are you (this will be important in order to work out when this seminar can be held.  It is possible that time zones may prevent some people from taking part and for this I do apologise)

8)      Will you be able to take part on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday for one hour sometime between 11:30am and 4pm GMT (British time)? Please tell me the times/day that best suits you.


Remember, please send me an email at to register your interest with the answer to these questions.  Its first come, first served so please do get in touch.


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