What Is the Atlantic World in History?

The Atlantic World is a term used by historians to describe the interconnectedness of cultures and economies across the Atlantic Ocean from the 15th to the 19th century. This period is often referred to as the Age of Exploration, as European powers began exploring and colonizing new lands in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

One of the most well-known aspects of the Atlantic World was the transatlantic slave trade. This involved the transportation of millions of Africans from their homes in West and Central Africa to various parts of North America, South America, and the Caribbean.

The slaves were forced to work on plantations, in mines, and in other industries that generated wealth for European powers. The slave trade had a profound impact on African societies, as many communities were disrupted or destroyed by slave raids.


In addition to slavery, colonization was another hallmark of the Atlantic World. European powers established colonies throughout North America, South America, and the Caribbean.

These colonies were often established for economic reasons, with Europeans seeking to extract resources such as gold, silver, sugar, and tobacco from their new territories. The colonization of these areas also led to significant cultural exchanges between Europeans and indigenous peoples.

The Columbian Exchange

Perhaps one of the most significant consequences of colonization was what historians call the Columbian Exchange. This refers to a period where plants, animals, diseases, and people were exchanged between Europe and North America.

For example, Europeans brought horses and cattle to North America while they also introduced wheat and rice into indigenous cultures. Conversely, Native Americans introduced maize (corn) into European diets.

The American Revolution

The American Revolution marked a turning point in Atlantic World history when thirteen British colonies broke away from Great Britain in 1776. This event had far-reaching consequences for both North America and Europe. It inspired other revolutionary movements throughout the Atlantic World, including the Haitian Revolution, which resulted in the first black republic in 1804.

The Abolitionist Movement

The 19th century saw a growing movement to abolish slavery throughout the Atlantic World. This movement was driven by various factors, including religious beliefs, Enlightenment philosophy, and economic interests. In 1807, Great Britain became the first country to abolish the slave trade, while slavery itself was abolished throughout most of the Americas by the end of the century.


The Atlantic World was a complex and interconnected system that shaped much of modern history. From the transatlantic slave trade to colonization and revolution, this period had profound consequences for societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Today, historians continue to study this period in order to better understand our globalized world and its origins.