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The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Second Edition
Richard W. Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven W. Hirsch, Lyman L. Johnson, David Northrup
History WIRED

The Atlantic System and Africa, 1550-1800


Africans in the Americas, Part I - The Terrible Transformation
This comprehensive site contains several maps of colonial North America.

Contemporary Map of Barbados

The Dutch West India Company's Settlements in the Atlantic
This site features a nice illustration of the maritime empire created by this Dutch Joint Stock Company in the Atlantic world during the seventeenth century.


Plantation America
This site presents three images of plantation life in the Carolinas.

Africans in the Americas, Part I - The Terrible Transformation
This comprehensive site contains numerous images of slavery in North America.

British History: The Slave Trade
Many of this site's numerous links contain images of the Atlantic system.

European Forts in Ghana
View several historical illustrations of European trading forts on the west coast of Africa.

Goree Island
This site contains several images of this trading fort which was off the coast of West Africa.

The Mosque and West African Islam
Several of this site's images are of mosques built between 1550 and 1800 which demonstrate Islam's continual influence on West Africa.

Activity One:

According to Bulliet, et al., The Earth and Its Peoples (Second Edition), the emergence of the Atlantic economy was "a prime example of how European capitalist relationships were reshaping the world" (p. 506).  Capitalism, as defined in the text, "was the ability to manage large financial resources through a system of institutions." To begin analyzing these statements, go to Joint Stock Companies and Chartered Company and then explain the operating principles of these two similar yet different institutions.  Describe how these new entities enabled Europeans to manage large financial resources.  To understand the roles these companies played in creating the Atlantic economy, next go to The Dutch West India Company, Royal African Company Established, and the London Company.  Explain the goals of each company's investment in the Atlantic world.  What trading networks did each help to establish?  However, private companies were not solely responsible for creating the Atlantic economy; European nation-states also played a pivotal role.  As you have seen, chartered companies were joint-stock companies which had special privileges conveyed upon them by states.  European governments also pursued other policies in order to encourage transatlantic trade.  To explore them further, go to Mercantilism.  Explain how mercantilism, including chartered companies, promoted the growth and development of the Atlantic economy.  More importantly, analyze the ways in which European capitalism and mercantilism shaped the structure of the Atlantic economy.  Who participated, and who received the greatest share of the wealth generated by this new system?  Where were most of the manufactured products sold in this system produced?  Where were most commodities or raw materials developed?  What population flows did mercantilism and capitalism encourage?

Activity Two:

The emergence of the Atlantic economy could not have occurred without the participation of African merchants and governments.  Indeed, the ability of Europeans and African merchants to develop trading conventions beneficial to both groups allowed the transatlantic slave trade, an absolute necessity for the expansion of the Atlantic economy, to flourish.  Go to World Trading: The Gold Coast, 1450-1880 and study the maps and images in the first two sections on the left-hand column; then read the primary sources in the third section.  Explain the process through which Europeans and Africans developed the slave trade.  Who provided the slaves?  What did Europeans provide to African merchants in return for slaves?  Where did the exchanges take place?  What roles did joint-stock companies and African governments play?

Activity Three :

European capitalist relationships were not only creating new economic configurations in the Atlantic world between 1550 and 1800; they were also fostering the emergence of new societies.  Much of Chapter 19, The Diversity of American Colonial Societies, 1530-1770, focuses on the influence of European cultural, religious, and political traditions on these new societies.  African culture also profoundly affected them.  For example, a large number of people from the Kongo region of Central Africa were sold into the Atlantic slave trade, resulting in the spread of the Kongo religion throughout the Atlantic world.  Go to Kongo Religion and then discuss the main characteristics of the belief.  Next, click on Faces of the Gods. Where are Kongo and Kongo-derived religions practiced today?  Explain the process of syncretism as it relates to the Kongo religion.  How has this religion shaped the history of Africans living outside Africa?  As a study of the Kongo religion indicates, the slave trade had great influence on both sides of the Atlantic since it generated major changes in demography, economics, society, and religion.  In fact, it affected every aspect of the lives of native inhabitants of the Americas as well as those of voluntary and involuntary immigrants. One significant development was the growth of large communities of peoples of African descent  throughout North and South America and the Caribbean Islands that are still very important and influential today.  For more information about Africans in the Americas, go to Slaves and Slave Systems and African Diaspora.  First, define diaspora.  According to these sites, what sections of the Western Hemisphere are commonly regarded as part of the African Diaspora? What African cultural continuities can we identify within diaspora communities in the Americas today?

Activity Four :

Enslaved Africans were not passive and did resist their enslavement and exploitation at every opportunity. Some revolted during the Middle Passage, as evidenced by John Barbot's account of a slave revolt aboard ship. What role did ethnicity play in the revolt? Discuss the efforts taken to prevent slave revolts aboard ship and describe what transport conditions were like for the slaves.  After arriving in the Americas, some slaves chose to resist by fleeing.  To learn more about these actions, see Nanny of the Maroons.  Also, review pages 505-507 in Bulliet, et al., The Earth and Its Peoples (Second Edition).  Who were the maroons, and how did they manage to achieve their limited independence from colonial powers? Other slaves managed to obtain their freedom through different means.  For example, see Olaudah Equiano and Elizabeth Keckley.  What special skills enabled these two slaves to gain their freedom?  Still other slaves chose, or felt that their only recourse was, to use collective violence.  Go to Africans in the Americas: Stono Rebellion and St. John Revolt.  Explain what caused these Africans to revolt and how the local white population reacted to the uprisings.  After examining all of these sites, describe the variety of ways that Africans resisted slavery.  What impact do you believe these various forms of resistance had on the institution of slavery?