Critical Analysis of Peter Coclanis’ Article: Atlantic World or Atlantic/World?

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“The Atlantic World was a world Europeans, Africans, and Americans “made together” –together with peoples from without.” Such is the belief of Peter Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Professor of History and Economics and Associate Provost for International Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In his paper: Atlantic World or Atlantic/World? published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2006, Coclanis argues that the study of Atlantic history is too narrow. He writes in this paper that there is no context in which the Atlantic world can be completely separated from the interactions with the rest of the world. The argument Coclanis believes if one is to study Atlantic history of the early modern period (circa 1500-1800 CE) one needs to focus more on other areas, such as the countries outside the Atlantic or their trading circuits in order to fully understand the history of the Atlantic. This idea that Atlantic historians need to change their focus is contradictory to what Atlantic history is. If Atlantic historians shifted their focus to include countries not connected to the Atlantic, can it still be called Atlantic history or if one was to believe what Coclanis suggests: should historians even focus on the Atlantic world at all?

Coclanis is writing in response to his article published four years earlier entitled: Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History. He writes because he believes that now he is “a bit better informed” in that his critique has become “bit more nuanced and sophisticated.” Coclanis reveals his feeling toward the study of Atlantic history by being underwhelmed and unconvinced about the arguments made the historians. He states that the “scholarshi...

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...lude outer-Atlantic areas as well. This idea is contradictory to what Atlantic historians, and arguably historians in general study. The focus of any history is to understand developments which took place in the Atlantic. To include other areas outside of the Atlantic does nothing to improve Atlantic history. In effect it does quite the opposite; it becomes world history removing the importance of the Atlantic from Atlantic history. What Coclanis argues is that for one to fully understand a history of the Atlantic one must understand what is happening simultaneously across the globe.

Works Cited

Coclanis, Peter A.. “Atlantic World or Atlantic/World?” The William and Mary Quarterly 63.4 (2006): 725-742.

Coclanis, Peter A.. “Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History” Journal of World History 13.1 (2002): 169-182.
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