Europe between the Oceans, 9000 BC-AD 1000. The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History, 1400-1900. Global Lives: Britain and the World 1550-1800.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Schmidt, Albert J.
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 3
Topic: NamedWork: Global Lives: Britain and the World, 1550-1800 (Nonfiction work); The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History, 1400-1900 (Nonfiction work); Europe between the Oceans, 9000 BC-AD 1000 (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Ogborn, Miles; Benjamin, Thomas; Cunliffe, Barry
Accession Number: 254405158
Full Text: Europe between the Oceans, 9000 BC-AD 1000. By Barry Cunliffe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, x plus 518 pp., $45.00).

The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History, 1400-1900. By Thomas Benjamin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, xxx plus 721 pp, hc $99.00, pb $44.99).

Global Lives: Britain and the World 1550-1800. By Miles Ogborn (New York: Cambridge Uuniversity Press, 2008, xx plus 343 pp., [pounds sterling]17.99).

The three works reviewed in this essay are similar in that to one degree or another each speaks to the Atlantic world as it was or was about to become. This subject could have been a very unrewarding one: treating Europe as Cunliffe has from prehistory to the Middle Ages has been done time and again, usually in college textbooks, although admittedly superficially. Then, too, even Benjamin's notion of an Atlantic world has been around for a while and consequently should hardly jolt us. Finally, Ogborn's English exploration and colonization involves an oft told tale which risks being tiresome if told again. Such worries are unfounded here: each author, having employed a diverse disciplinary expertise, offers a unique take on the subject.

Master archeologist Cunliffe, whose portrayal of Europe as a remote Eurasian peninsula jutting forth into an unknown Atlantic, sets the stage for Benjamin and Ogborn. Cunliffe's earlier work, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples might seem a better fit for coupling with Benjamin's and Ogborn's works, but this is arguable. Benjamin's, wonderfully comprehensive, simply cannot be ignored by anyone attempting to make sense of the mosaic of peoples in today's Atlantic/Carribean world. Finally, Ogborn, expert cultural/historical geographer and master story-teller about explorers, colonizers, merchants, slaves and slavers, enlivens his narrative with cameos of characters who parade across the 17th and 18th century global stage.

Cunliffe, an old hand in deciphering the secrets of the neolithic and subsequent worlds, has long endeared himself to historians by filling voids in this distant past. His focus in the present work is on the eventual, but not hasty, orientation of Europe's peoples westward toward the great ocean. This "long march" of Europe began about 9000 BC and continued until its awakening about 1000 AD, a time that the late Robert Lopez labeled a 10th century Renaissance. Although improbable harbingers of a Renaissance, the Vikings utilized the Atlantic no less than Europe's rivers and seas for their legitimate and nefarious purposes. Because change occurred gradually during this stretch in time Cunliffe labeled it a longue duree (as taken from the Annales School) and defined as the deep rhythm of underlying forces influencing all human society, a history in which all change is slow, a history of constant repetition, of ever recurring cycles. "This is geographical time-a time of landscapes that enable and constrain, of stable or slow developing technologies and deep-seated ideologies." (p. 17)

There being no place for "heroes" (e.g. "event makers") in Cunliffe's history, his chronicle begins with food gatherers at the end of the last Ice Age (ch. 3). Then he highlights the "Neolithic Package" of first farmers (in the Fertile Crescent and Danube Valley), 7500-5000 BC (ch. 4), the colonization, spread, and assimilation of Neolithic life 6000-3800 BC (ch. 5), and "Europe in her Infinite Variety: c. 4500-2800 BC" (ch. 6), during which more land opened to agriculture and "the creation of a thoroughly mixed gene pool" (p. 140). These are the author's best chapters: they test his disciplinary skills and shed light on what is a hugely ambiguous period for most historians. The next half dozen chapters propel us over familiar ground--from Europe's "first civilization", the Minoan on Crete, to the Byzantine/Frankish/Viking interlude mentioned above. Throughout these chapters the Atlantic has no particular role in the scheme of things; only at the end, when Europe turns westward do matters change:

Cunliffe's is a wondrous book in its substance and physical appearance. The archaeologist's touch, immensely important, is evident in the many superb maps, almost all colored, and innumerable illustrations, some also colored, plus nineteen pages of critical bibliography and a nicely organized index. All are on slick paper which make this work one to treasure. It is by no means a "coffee table" ornament or an "illustrated history of whatever"; it is a first-rate scholarly work tastefully produced.

Thomas Benjamin takes up where Cunliffe's study leaves off. The former's Atlantic was and still is a "major highway" for people, goods, and ideas--interactions and exchanges. These "transformed Europeans, African, and American societies and led to the creation of new peoples, culture, economies and ideas throughout the Atlantic arena" (front piece). Benjamin's separate treatment of the Atlantic peoples--Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans (Iberian, English, French, and Dutch)--serves to organize his work into three parts. The first, labeled "The Ocean Shall Unloose the Bonds of Things" (Seneca) details in four chapters the European (primarily Iberian) initiative and Amerindian response. Part II encompasses the 17th-18th century Atlantic world when the English, French, and Dutch challenged Iberian hegemony and then fought among themselves. The five chapters in this section touch on privateers, settlers, shippers, slavers, and planters--mostly Spain's enemies. Chapters on slavery and the slave trade, the plantation complex, Native Americans' involvement in Europe's wars, the relations between men and women (mainly European men and Amerindian and African women), and even brief mention of town planning and architecture in early Spanish America spell relief from ever recurring warfare and violence. Finally, four chapters on "A New Order of the Ages" discuss the dissolution of this Atlantic World--the Anglo-French struggle for supremacy during the long 18th century, the Atlantic revolutions (1776-1826), and the seemingly endless effort to abolish the slave trade and to end New World Slavery. The explosive energy released by these three episodes spanned the western ocean and convulsed the Atlantic world. Their legacy is one reflected in both the region's tempestuous history and uncertain state even today.

The Atlantic World mirrors Benjamin's own teaching as exemplified by his course syllabus, which this reviewer uncovered on the internet. The book contains some forty very good maps, numerous (37) very useful tables, more than sixty illustrations (some of which are of mediocre quality but still of interest), thirty-seven excellent documents to embellish the text, "further reading" at the end of each chapter and 27 additional pages of critical bibliography, seven pages of glossary, and 22 pages of an expertly organized index. These add-ons attest to the care employed by the publishers of this work as well as to its quality..

Citing omissions seems quibbling and raises questions of a reviewer's fairness: after all, not everything can be included. That said, what of New World tobacco and the white servitude often employed in harvesting it? Indeed, what role did slaves have in this economy? Regarding these matters some consideration might have been given to the Chesapeake and the inclusion of David Brion Davis, Slavery in the Colonial Chesapeake, Allan Kulikoff, Slavery and Tobacco, and T. M. Divine's work on Glasgow's very consequential tobacco lords in the bibliography

Miles Ogborn, a geographer at St. Mary's College, London, has like Cunliffe obliterated disciplinary boundaries by playing historian in addition to pursuing his own craft. His attention to matters of space, place, and landscape easily connect him with landscape historians. His enticing literary style and strategic use of biography has enabled him to weave a very human tapestry and enliven his tale of global exploration.

If Cunliffe has recounted a distant past reflective of his archaeological training and Benjamin has spoken often in terms of the imperial ventures, enslavement, and revolutions which have shaped Atlantic settlement, Ogborn, besides distilling the human dimension from his vast compendium, "sets out to demonstrates ways in which these historical and geographical changes happened." Ogborn has written "histories and geographies of trade, settlement, colonisation, empire building, piracy, slavery and science" to demonstrate global connections that made the maritime world, 1600-1800.

His is a smooth flowing account of global adventure spliced with vignettes that run the gamut from "savages", slaves, slavers, and anti-slavers to East India magnates, Madras merchants, and West Indian pirates and planters. He includes even a few Pacific voyagers. While the author treats a period and subject that is reasonably well known, he has novel rakes on the likes of Raleagh, Pocahontas, and Cook. At the same time he lifts from obscurity the intriguing types like the female Luso-African capitalist La Belinguere, long forgotten mariners, even slaves tike Sarah Afar, pirates, and prostitutes like Essa Morrison who rolled drunken sailors. Ogborn's account of "Maritime labour: sailors and the seafaring world" and on port life is a gem even before Essa Morrison makes her debut. Another piece on maritime violence: buccaneers, privateers and pirates impresses quite apart from the cameos that embroider it. Global Lives, which exists at present only in paperback, contains more than 40 biographies, in both abbreviated and detailed form, forty halftones, 26 maps, and seven tables. Notes and suggestions for further reading appear at the end of each chapter.

These works, though seemingly localized, explain much about today's world. Initially the Atlantic and its adjacent lands were out of reach and even unworthy of pursuit; afterward they existed as a prize to win or exploit for colonization and commerce; and finally they became an ally of Atlantic Europe in its Continental conflicts. In recent years, this Europe, having shaken the habit of war, has assumed a moral if diminished political role while military leadership has passed to Atlantic America. The unanswered question remains how the Atlantic world will manage both the moral and strategic responsibilities and still resolve the issues of environment, race, minorities, poverty, and political instability that history-so eloquently narrated by Cunliffe, Benjamin, and Ogborn-has bequeathed it.

Albert J. Schmidt

The George Washington University & Quinnipiac College of Law
As the Scandinavian kingdoms lost their vigour and the circumscribed
  Mediterranean dissipated its energies in exhausting rivalries, the
  Atlantic facade came into its own again. Its skilled and well-tried
  hoar-building traditions provided it with sturdy square-rigged cobs
  capable of carrying large cargoes and with lateen-rigged caravels
  able to sail close to the wind. And in its people the lure of the
  west was ever present. It was from the ports of Spain and Portugal
  and later from Britain, France and the Low Countries that countless
  people from the peninsula of Old Europe sailed into the wider
  world (p. 479).
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