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European perspectives on a longer Atlantic World – 4-5 May 2010, University of Turin. Marco Mariano and Federica Morelli (Coord.)
Jean-Frédéric Schaub

The Case for a Broader Atlantic History

[27/06/2012]

Texte intégral

  • 1  Marzagalli, Silvia, « Sur les origines de l’‘Atlantic History’ : Paradigme interprétatif de l’hist (...)
  • 2  Cooper, Frederick, and Jane Burbank, Empires in World History, Princeton: Princeton University Pre (...)

1Historiographical genealogy is hardly a helpful tool to evaluate the state of the art of a scholarly discipline. At the most, as far as Atlantic history is concerned, it should be remembered that the current hegemony of the research conducted in American universities in this sub-field is a relatively recent phenomenon1. In fact, during the five decades following decolonization each single European national history has integrated the imperial dimension in its own formation. First, the metropolitan narration and the colonial narration coexisted in the narration of the national glory without talking to each other. However, the growing interest in the imperial dimension of the national narration changed the picture, as it led European national histories to deal with the Atlantic expansion2.

  • 3  Canny, Nicholas, Oxford History of the British Empire, vol.1. The Origins of Empire: British Overs (...)
  • 4  Pocock, John G. A., The Discovery of Islands. Essays in British History, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ (...)

2The categories of colonial history were originally forged within the very rigid framework of national history. To be sure, there was an English history of the Thirteen Colonies way before the notion of British history had been reconsidered to take into account the diversity of the British islands3. The cultural and religious diversity of the English-speaking territories in North America and the Caribbean witness the plurality of the societies of origin of the migrants. This is why the deconstruction of the British world as a political and cultural unit takes place at the level of metropolitan history and, at the sametime, at the level of imperial and colonial history. The intellectual and personal itinerary of John G. A. Pocock shows the complexity of this process, as it restores a unitary large-scale picture of the British world, from the New Zealand of his origins to the “Atlantic archipelago of the North-West” to contemporary America, by taking into account the religious, linguistic, social, and political diversity of the territories and people of Great Britain4.

  • 5  Lombardero Álvarez, Jorge, « Maeztu y la Hispanidad », El Basilisco, 2ª época, 1999, nº 25, p. 51- (...)

3In the Spanish case, the political use of the history of expansion in the New World is exemplified by the celebration of the national holiday on October 12. Both in Spain and in many Latin American republics the original name, now unacceptable was Día de la raza (1913) and later Día de la hispanidad (1931) in the tradition of the Catholic-oriented movement Unión ibero-americana5. Between the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century many cities in Spain and Latin America erected imposing columns with statues of Columbus pointing west (Mexico City 1877, Madrid and Barcelona 1881, Valladolid 1901, Buenos Aires 1910-1921). The Archivo General de Indias, which holds the correspondence of the Casa de Contratación and the Consejo de Indias, represent national monuments, while in the universities of the Franco years “departamentos de historia de América” were founded within history faculties. In the falangist climate following Franco’s victory, their political mission was the glorification of imperial Spain.

  • 6  Ibáñez Martín, José, « Alocución del Excmo. Sr. Ministro de Educación Nacional D. José Ibáñez Mart (...)

4Since the depression of 1929 precipitated both Spain and Latin American countries in a particularly deep crisis, neo-imperial and reactionary currents reinforced each other on both sides of the Atlantic. In this respect the similarities between the rhetorics of the military circles who backed Perón’s rise to power and of the Spanish Falange are astonishing. An extreme atlanticism with ultra-Catholic overtones had found its home in Spain. In 1940, one year after Franco’s victory, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas launched the famous Revista de Indias. Its first issue was opened by an address of the minister of Education José Ibáñez Martín on the notion of hispanidad as a Catholic and transatlantic project6. Archbishop of Toledo Isidro Gomá Tomás had defined hispanidad in a 1936 address in Buenos Aires as follows:  

  • 7  Gomá Tomás, Isidro, « Apología de la hispanidad. Discurso pronunciado en el Teatro Colón de Buenos (...)

Hispanicity, we would say, is the external projection of the physiognomy of Spain toward the people who complement it. It is the character of Spain which has incubated the character of other lands and races and, without altering its nature, has exalted and depurated it and made it similar to itself. This is how we understand race and hispanicity7.

  • 8  Vincent, Bernard, « L’Espagne et les commémorations de 1492 », Le Débat, 1994, n°78, p. 77-83.
  • 9  Catroga, Fernando, « Ritualizações da historia » in Fernando Catroga and Luiz Reis Torgal, Históri (...)
  • 10  Freyre, Gilberto, O Luso e o Trópico, Lisboa: Comissão Executiva das Comemorações do V Centenário (...)
  • 11  Schwarcz, L. Moritz, O espetáculo das raças, São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993; Castro Gomes, (...)

5In the case of Spain, academia was required to produce teaching and knowledge on the Atlantic expansion. However, this Atlantism was by and large discredited8. The Revista de Indias was founded the same year of the exhibition commemorating the eighth centennial of the foundation of the kingdom of Portugal (1140) and the third centennial of the Portuguese restauração (1640)9. Pride of the Salazar regime, the exhibition was meant to show that, I quote, “Portugal is not a small country.” It was an exaltation of the Portuguese imperial past, and yet it could be noted that the priority was placed on the Asiatic past of the empire, which remained the most precious and honourable from the 16th to the 20th century in the Portuguese mind and memory, as well as on its African present up to the end of the colonial wars (1974). This is why the major Portuguese contribution to Atlantic history has to do with the ethno-history of Angola, rather than the history of the formation of Brazil, which had been taken into account by the national history of the ancient colony. At the most, we can stress the sympathetic attitude of pro-Salazar intellectuals of the 1950s toward Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre’s effort to found the myth of luso-tropicalism, that is the theory positing that the Lusitanian character was particularly fitted to create a great, culturally and racially mixed nation in South America10. Opposite political conclusions have been drawn from such assertions: on the one hand, the Salazar regime could draw from Freyre’s work the arguments for a legitimation of the Portuguese colonial empire; on the other, such work opened new perspectives for the construction of a “racial democracy” in Brazil11.

  • 12  Havard, Gilles, and Cécile Vidal, Histoire de l'Amérique française, Paris: Flammarion, 2004.

6In the case of France, the mission in Nouvelle-France, the lost glory of Louisiana, the economic grandeur of Saint-Domingue, and the tragic exodus of the Acadians were part of the grand narrative of national history12. As for the darkest side of this history, the Atlantic slave trade, it took a very recent political impulse (2006) from a conservative President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, to situate it more appropriately in the national memory, in the academic institutions, and in the calendar of official commemorations. In his speech, Chirac established a link between memory and history of slavery:

  • 13  Chirac, Jacques, Discours à l’occasion de la réception en l’honneur du Comité pour la mémoire de l (...)

The abolition of 1848 is a crucial moment in our history: one of those moments which forged our idea of our country as the country of human rights. However, beyond abolition, today it is the whole memory of slavery, long rejected, which has to be included in our history: this memory must be genuinely shared13.

7Placing the issue of slavery in the French Antilles in a peripheral position in the evocation of French-speaking America has been instrumental to the exclusion of the African dimension from Atlantic history. For a long time, the non academic association “Les anneaux de la mémoire” founded in Nantes, a major slave trade port, in 1991, bore most of the burden of the research in the field14. However, a decade later, the French public, the students, and the scholars can count on an increasing amount of scholarship15.

  • 16  Balandier, Georges, « La situation coloniale. Approche théorique » [1951], Cahiers internationaux (...)

8Too much time has been wasted to make up for the mobility of researchers in the Atlantic world. The intellectual and institutional consequences are extremely relevant, if we consider the reciprocal attraction between African French-speaking researchers and American universities in the last fifteen years. In fact, the research on the history of Africa conducted in France focused mainly on the analysis of political transformations generated by modern colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries, from the perspectives opened by the decolonization process. The major effort has dealt with contemporary issues, in the tradition of the seminal works by Georges Balandier on the “colonial situation” in Africa16.

  • 17  Bailyn, Bernard, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Pre (...)
  • 18  Godechot, Jacques, and Robert Palmer, « Le problème de l’Atlantique du XVIIIe au XXe siècle », Rel (...)

9The strategic dynamics originated during World War II led to a crucial transnational impulse, as Bernard Bailyn and David Armitage rightly pointed out17. The military and strategic solidarity between the US and Western Europe played a relevant role, especially in American universities. The paper on “Le problème de l’Atlantique du XVIIIe au XXe siècle” presented by Robert Palmer and Jaques Godechot at the International Congress of Historical Sciences of Rome in 1955 was a turning point, although it was received with suspicion by those who saw it as an instrument of NATO18. It was, however, an international effort to build a single analytic and synthetic framework in which to understand together both the American and the French revolution. This charge, a typical example of the mental blocs imposed by the cold war, inhibited European historians much more than their American colleagues. This is certainly one of the basic reasons of the evident delay historians on the European side of the Atlantic have accumulated in this field.

  • 19  Chaunu, Pierre, L'Expansion européenne du XIIIe au XVe siècle, Paris: Presses Universitaires de Fr (...)
  • 20  Mauro, Frédéric, Le Portugal et l’Atlantique au XVIIe siècle (1570-1670). Étude économique, Paris, (...)
  • 21  Ricard, Robert, Études sur l’histoire des Portugais au Maroc, Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra, 19 (...)
  • 22  Mauro, Frédéric, « De Madère à Mazagan : une Méditerranée atlantique », Hesperis, 1953, p. 250-254 (...)

10However since the late 1960’s Pierre Chaunu, with his characteristic blend of detail and vision, was able to define an appropriate domain for Atlantic history19. Following his path, Frédéric Mauro also laid the basis for a history of the Southern Atlantic centered on Portuguese America20. They are both students of Fernand Braudel and, at the same time, both built on the pioneering works by Robert Ricard. The latter had studied first the Iberian history of America and later the history of Western Maghreb between the end of the 1920s and the 1940s. Thus, at a very early stage he paved the way to a connected history of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic21. In fact Mauro evoked an “Atlantic Mediterranean” in a 1953 article on the relations between Morocco and the islands of the Eastern Atlantic, which Chaunu on his part qualified as “propylaea of America”22 .

  • 23  Gruzinski, Serge, Les Quatre Parties du monde. Histoire d’une mondialisation, Paris: La Martinière (...)

11These ambitious audacities have hardly opened new grounds in French academia. And what could be said about the academic legacy of Fernand Braudel outside the institute he has directed? Of course France has continued to train historians of Latin America; Serge Gruzinski, for example, provided wide syntheses which exceeded by far the Atlantic dimension23. Unfortunately the intellectual inspiration behind Chaunu’s work has not found in French universities the intellectual following that it deserved. It is by no means certain that French historical research is more cosmopolitan now than it was in 1960.

  • 24  Greene, Jack P., « Colonial History and National History: Reflections on a Continuing Problem », T (...)

12Since the last thirty years, English-speaking historiography has produced the dominant Atlantic history paradigm; social and political issues, from the slave trade to war of independence, are at the center of this model. However, the discussion is still open, as it is shown by the controversy over the relationship between colonial history and national history in the case of the Thirteen Colonies and then of the United States24. Meanwhile, framing colonization in a longer chronological perspective including its premises, situated at the end of the Middle Ages, changed this paradigm. This trend led to stress the relation among British expansion in Ireland, in the North American continent, and in the Caribbean.

  • 25  Lara, Silvia Hunold, Fragmentos setecentistas. Escravidão, cultura e poder na América portuguesa, (...)

13In the case of Brazil, the other scholarly power in the Americas, we find quite a similar situation. The “ancient Portuguese colonial system” paradigm, as it was defined by Fernando Novais, pushed historical research toward a long 18th century. Its major focus is the period from the resumption of internal expansion, especially in Minas Gerais, and the climax of the slave trade to independence. Previous chapters – the conquest of Amazonia, the persecution of the conversos, the Dutch occupation of the North-East, and the enslavement of the native populations – have been studied as well25.

  • 26  Almeida Mendes, António, « Les réseaux de la traite ibérique dans l’Atlantique Nord. Aux origines (...)

14These historiographies are centered on the American hemisphere. The European and especially the African territories, while not neglected, do not play a central role. The analytical frameworks in the US and in Brazil focus on the study of colonial societies in the long 18th century, while alternative models are based on longer-term perspectives. The Atlantic question acquires a different meaning to the extent that the first Atlantic navigations by Europeans in the 14th and 15th centuries are taken into account. The conquest of Atlantic islands – Canaries, Madeira, Cape Verde, Azores – restore the Medieval chronological depth of the expansion, as well as its Mediterranean dimension. The first century of high seas and cabotage navigation in the Atlantic up to the Cape saw the extension of the Mediterranean notion of the maritime space. In other words, this chronological step back outlines another space for Atlantic studies and relates them to Mediterranean studies. Also the studies on the Atlantic slave trade have mostly focused on the time span from the mid-sixteenth century to the wave of abolitions. Nevertheless, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed the development of connections from Africa to Europe, and then from Africa to America. The slave markets created in the major ports in the South of the Iberian Peninsula suppliedthe metropolises as well as the new Atlantic outposts; they established a close link between Mediterranean networks and new oceanic settlements26.

  • 27  Armitage, David, « Making the Empire British: Scotland in the Atlantic world 1542-1707 », Past & P (...)

15Based on these assumptions, what are the major research priorities? First, the point is to reconnect the chronological and spatial connections which have been lost because of the contemporary political revolutions. This is, of course, an engaging way to deepen further research, as the “Atlantic” paradigm is an open one and an unstable one. It goes beyond the colonial system, which puts together a metropolitan society and a far away land to be settled27. It provides a complex combination of questions about the global environment of the European expansion across the ocean that includes local and larger processes, which took place in Europe, in Africa, and in the Americas. It is also an open framework, because scholars do not share necessarily the same definition of such a paradigm. A theoretical discussion about the meaning of an “Atlantic” perspective continues, while historians produce a great deal of new research. One may assert that the instability of the theoretical model, far from being an obstacle, could be a serious opportunity to renew questions and plausible answers.

  • 28  Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, « Entangled Histories: Borderland Historiographies in New Clothes? », A (...)
  • 29  Sarson, Steven, British America 1500-1800. Creating Colonies, Imagining an Empire, London and New (...)
  • 30  Sher B., Richard, « Charles V and the Book Trade: an Episode in Enlightenment Print Culture » in S (...)
  • 31  Maltby, William S., The Black Legend in England. The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment 1558-16 (...)

16Traditionally, Early Modern historiography about European expansion in Northern America considers Columbus’ endeavor as the beginning of the process. But it hardly connects the Iberian shaping of the Western Hemisphere from 1492 to the beginning of the 17th century as a genuine chapter of the “pre-history” of the Northern American settlements28. For example, in Steven Sarson’s recent textbook about Early Modern British America, the Spanish and Portuguese experience deserves a two-pages paragraph in a 332-pages book29. From the 19th century, the enduring economic and strategic success of the British Empire and the promises of the young US made a cruel contrast with the backward and unstable remains of the Iberian Empires. The collapse of the Spanish Empire, the permanent instability of Spanish politics along the century, and probably the military superiority of the US against the Republic of Mexico in the 1840s induced to believe that the development of the British colonies had had nothing in common with the previous Iberian shaping of America. Reverend Principal Robertson’s and William Hickling Prescott’s views on the decadence of the Hispanic glorious monarchy became the mainstream approach to the Spanish contribution to the European expansion in the Atlantic30. These Modern presentations of a specific mix of cruelty and bad management of an empire came from a three centuries-long tradition of the Black Legend31.

  • 32  Seed, Patricia, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640, Cambrid (...)

17Nevertheless, a comparative approach had been recently more and more accepted among specialists in American Early Modern History. Some books consider the settlements in the Western hemisphere as a global European experience in Americas. This has been Patricia Seed’s framework and, very recently, Ellen Hampton, under François Weil’s orientation, gave an interesting doctoral dissertation comparing the very first generation of settlers in Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Dutch settlements32.

  • 33  Elliott, John H., Empires of the Atlantic World. Britain and Spain in America, New Haven: Yale Uni (...)
  • 34  Elliott, John H., « Learning from the Enemy: Early Modern Britain and Spain » in Spain, Europe & t (...)

18John Elliott’s Empires of the Atlantic World, in spite of assumed biases in its method (native people unconsidered) and its scope (exclusion of Brazil and French American settlements), proves to be a deeply rooted attempt not only to compare but also to entangle the Spanish and the British achievements in America before the Independence cycle33. Elliott went back to the question of the Spanish model in Britain and British Western colonies recently, insisting on the first time English admiration toward Spanish power and overseas success34.

  • 35  Elliott, John H., « A Europe of Composite Monarchies », Past & Present, 1992, n°137, p. 48-71; Arm (...)
  • 36  Davies, R. R., The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343, Oxfo (...)
  • 37  Bartlett, Robert, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350, Pri (...)
  • 38  Fonseca, Luis Adão, O tratado de Tordesilhas e a diplomacia luso-castelhana no século XV, Lisbon: (...)

19Scholars who take seriously into account how much the British Isles were a composite and unstable political area, at least until the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, seem particularly open to consider the comparison with the Iberian Empires35. Remarkably, for some scholars the expression “first British Empire” slid from describing the American settlements to designate the Normand-English conquest of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland from the 12th to the 18th century36. The disruption of a medieval background to the English overseas expansion derives from the conception of the “colonial” expansion of the Frankish and Normand dynasties and family webs throughout Europe and the Mediterranean area during the last four centuries of the Middle Ages37. Such a move is of major importance, as the medieval beginnings of the European expansion in the Atlantic attracted the curiosity of many scholars in recent times38.

  • 39  Mason, Roger A., « Imagining Scotland: Scottish Political Thought and the Problem of Britain, 1560 (...)
  • 40  Barber, Sarah, « Settlement, Transplantation, and Expulsion: a Comparative Study of the Placement (...)

20On the one hand, historians interested in the four-nation structure reality of the “Atlantic archipelago” seem especially open to consider the comparison with the Spanish composite experience. Specific circumstances and research fields induce to take this seriously. The 1581 union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns proved to be an example and a textual resource for writers who published tracts about the union of English and Scottish crowns of 160339. The Spanish politics of destruction and expulsion of the Moriscos from the Peninsula in 1609-1611 had been compared with the English conquest of Irish Gaeldom40.

  • 41  Williamson, Arthur, « George Buchanan, Civic Virtue and Commerce: European Imperialism and its Six (...)
  • 42  McGinnis, Paul, and Arthur Williamson, « Britain, Race, and the Iberian World Empire » in The Stua (...)

21A famous case connects Iberian and British, European, and American perspective on 16th century expansion. Arthur Williamson, as a specialist in Renaissance Scotland, considers the Iberian Empires in his research. He does so because the humanist author he studies, George Buchanan, taught at Coimbra University in Portugal, and was put in jail by the Inquisition41. After his liberation, Buchanan wrote tracts and poems against the Portuguese Empire in the Indian Ocean and in America, among the fiercest ever. According to Williamson, it is mandatory to consider the ideological horizons of the Scottish and English expansions in close relationship with the implementation of Iberian settlements abroad42.

  • 43  Canny, Nicholas, « The Ideology of English Colonization: from Ireland to America », The William an (...)
  • 44  Loomie, Albert J., s.j., The Spanish Elizabethans. The English Exiles at the Court of Philip II, N (...)

22Another example may come from Irish studies. This is certainly a complex issue. Was the Elizabethan settlement in Ireland the first step of the Atlantic expansion of the English privateers? This exciting question has opened one of the most fruitful debates in Early Modern British historiography43. Incidentally, we must remember the diaspora of Irish Catholics and English recusants took place in sort of Roman Catholic “refuge” in Spain and in Spanish Flanders. The current research about these “milieu” builds bridges between Hispanic and British fields at the time of European expansion in the Atlantic44.

  • 45  Donattini, Massimo, Dal Nuovo Mondo all’America. Scoperte geografiche e colonialismo (secoli XV-XV (...)
  • 46  Franklin, Wayne, Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers. The Diligent Writers of Early America, Chicago: (...)
  • 47  Mancall, Peter C., Hakluyt’s Promise. An Elizabethan’s Obsession for an English America, New Haven (...)
  • 48  Scalan, Thomas, Colonial Writing and the New World, 1583-1671. Allegories of Desire, Cambridge: Ca (...)
  • 49  Nosworthy, James M., « The Narrative Sources of the Tempest », The Review of English Studies, 1948 (...)

23The third case is about the history of texts in Renaissance Europe45. As a matter of fact, from the first of Colombus’ letters to Sir Walter Raleigh’s tracts (with the exception of John Cabot’s travels), the English audience depended almost exclusively on the Spanish and Portuguese narratives46. Specialists in Richard Hakluyt’s and Samuel Purchase’s compilations shed lights on such a dependence47. The Hakluyts, uncle and nephew, took manuscript materials from Spanish and Portuguese writing wherever they could buy or steal them. The chronology of Thomas Scalan’s book on the colonial writing in the British New World starts in 1583, because this is the date of the first translation into English of Bartolomé de Las Casas’s tract against the “destruction of the Indies”48.Specialists in the history of English literature had paid attention to the Iberian sources of masterpieces, as important for the cultural history of the British expansion as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen49.

  • 50  Games, Alison, The Web of Empire. English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660, Oxford: (...)
  • 51  Brotton, Jerry, The Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo, Oxford: Oxford Univers (...)
  • 52  Barbour, Philip L., « Captain John Smith's Route through Turkey and Russia », The William and Mary (...)
  • 53  Fernández, Enrique, « El cuerpo torturado en los testimonios de cautivos de los corsarios berberis (...)
  • 54  Ebersole, Gary L., Captured by Texts. Puritan to Post-Modern Images of Indian Captivity, Charlotes (...)
  • 55  Stella, Alessandro, « L'esclavage en Andalousie à l'époque moderne », Annales ESC, 1992 (vol. 47), (...)

24Another important clue proved to be the new consideration of the importance of the Mediterranean experience of the Renaissance English sailors, traders and privateers. In her latest book Alison Games wrote a whole chapter on “The Mediterranean Origins of the British Empire”50. Previously, other scholars have stressed the major importance of the English discovery of the “Oriental bazaar” and the painful, massive and long-term experience of captivity in Islamic cities51. Captain John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624) contain the first American captivity narratives, but the author got a first-hand experience of “oriental” captivity during his travels through the Ottoman Empire prior to his Virginian adventures52. The massive and enduring experience of captivity along the Barbary Coast and through the Ottoman Empire became one of the most popular literary genre for the English audience53. One may remember that some Protestant English tradesmen suffered the cruel experience of captivity in the Spanish Inquisition jails as well. Narratives of captivity among the American heathen, like the famous Mary Rowlandson’s story, belong to the same tradition that began with the tracts about captivity in the Islamic Mediterranean societies54. The English merchants discovered the large slave markets in cities like Constantinople and Cairo, but also in Lisbon, Seville, and Valencia55. Their first-hand experience of the slave traffic went from their activities in the Mediterranean, much before the development of the Atlantic slave system.

  • 56  Nirenberg, David, « Mass Conversion and Genalogical Mentalities: Jews and Christians in Fifteenth (...)
  • 57  Sicroff, Albert, Les Controverses des statuts de « pureté de sang » dans l’Espagne du XVe au XVIII (...)
  • 58  Katz, David S., « Shylock’s Gender: Jewish Male Menstruation in Early Modern England », Review of (...)
  • 59  Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim, « L’antisémitisme racial est-il apparu au xxesiècle ? De la limpieza de s (...)
  • 60  Pascoe, Peggy, « Miscegenation Law, Court Cases and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century Amer (...)

25A society and a productive system based on chattel slavery needed a racial theory to justify the fate of the victims of plantation servitude. The Iberians opened the way to transatlantic slave traffic long before the English, of course. But they also launched institutions and procedures, which explicitly racialized the social game. Maybe the very first step of the process began with the “passion for genealogy” in Spain after the beginning of the mass conversions of Jews during the 15th century56. The “blood cleanliness” statutes that forbad the access to several institutions to Christians from Jewish or Muslim ancestry relied upon images of blood stain57. If typically Iberian, such a series of beliefs spread out in Europe, including the British Isles58. In his famous article about the possible link between limpieza de sangre and Nazi anti-Semitism, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi remembers the sentence of a Portuguese 17th century publicist, Vicente da Costa Mattos: “a little bit of Jewish blood is enough to destroy the whole world”59. This may remind to US historians the 19th century jurisprudence based on the racist theory of the drop of blood60.

  • 61  Martínez, María Elena, « The Black Blood of New Spain: Limpieza de Sangre, Racial Violence, and Ge (...)
  • 62  Pagden, Anthony, The Fall of Natural Man. The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethno (...)
  • 63  Twinam, Ann, « Racial Passing: Informal and Official "Whiteness" in Colonial Spanish America » in (...)

26Spanish and Portuguese settlers in America spread and enforced race-based discriminatory procedures, not only against converted Iberians, but also against native peoples and slaves deported from Africa. In 17th century New Spain, the conversos’ indelible stain was openly compared to the blackness of African slaves’ skin61. In Peru, the Holy Office of the Inquisition, considering the possibility that the natives derived in fact from one of the lost tribes of Israel, connected the conversos with the Inca, who were supposed to be physically similar to ancient Hebrews62. Not surprisingly the process of “whitening” individuals from native or African ancestry became a collective obsession throughout the territories of the Spanish empire in America63.

  • 64  Jordan, Winthrop, White over Black. American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812, Chapel Hill: U (...)
  • 65  Schorsch, Jonathan, Jews and Blacks in the Early Modern World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Pre (...)

27The blackness of the Jews became a rhetorical trope in many Iberian colonial writings. Throughout colonial America from the Spanish and Portuguese plantation societies to the English Caribbean and mainland plantation societies, masters of the slave system and law-makers supported the idea that African slaves deserved their fate not only due to the hazards of their lives, but also due to their genuine nature64. The defense of slavery needed arguments, which proved to be more and more racially based. Previously the Iberian culture had spread out a global framework for European expansion facing the others. It went from a political theory, which defined as threats a minor group (Spaniards from Jewish ancestry) – and a larger one (Spaniards from Muslim ancestry) on a religious suspicion and on a racial base as well. It is highly plausible to assert that the process of European settlements in Iberian and British America witnessed a sort of transfer from a racialized hatred against the Jews toward a racialized fear of black men65. This is another legacy of the Atlantic Mediterranean.

28To conclude, we must stress two aspects: the circulation of social experiences and the segmentation of the societies involved. In fact, what characterizes the construction of the Atlantic space is a significant web of connections and, at the same time, the creation of new social stratifications,either de facto or institutionalized, like slavery. Then we may wish that the following research directions were explored. First, link the first and the second period of modern Atlantic history. Second, articulate the Mediterranean and Atlantic experience of both Europeans and Africans. Third, question the Hispanic, Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch exceptionalisms.

29These research directions and objectives invite to approach together a number of specific issues. Inquiries on the socio-political history of imperial regimes are in progress. The dialectics of spatial mobility and social segmentation could be exemplified in three empirical directions: first, the evolution of the individual and collective status of the populations; second, the joint evaluation of all the diasporic phenomena which originated these Atlantic spaces; third, the circulation of the cultural models and practices which concern Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

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Notes

1  Marzagalli, Silvia, « Sur les origines de l’‘Atlantic History’ : Paradigme interprétatif de l’histoire des espaces atlantiques à l’époque modern », Dix-Huitième Siècle, 2001, n°33, p. 17-31; Chaplin, Joyce, « Expansion and Exceptionalism in Early American History », The Journal of American History, 2003 (vol. 89), n°4, p. 1421-1455.

2  Cooper, Frederick, and Jane Burbank, Empires in World History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009; see, for example, the « Empire Reader » in Labyrinthe, 2010, n°35.

3  Canny, Nicholas, Oxford History of the British Empire, vol.1. The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Jean-Frédéric Schaub, « The Case for a Broader Atlantic History », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Colloques, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2012, consulté le 24 août 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/63478 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.63478

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Jean-Frédéric Schaub

EHESS
Centro de História de Além-mar, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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