What Is Iberian about the Atlantic? A Roundtable on the Future of a Globalized South Atlantic History
Conference on Latin American History 53
Atlantic History is no longer the ingénue. In fact, the field may have entered comfortable middle age, a status suggested by the last decade’s evaluative debates about its future. Whereas early critiques of the field extended its boundaries by adding colors— black, green, and red Atlantics— commentators in more recent twenty-first-century forums focused on assessing the relevance of the Atlantic as a geographic unit of historical analysis. In their 2008 appraisal of the field, Philip D. Morgan and Jack P. Greene observed that Atlantic History has long moved beyond its original appeal as an antidote to teleological national histories, generating analytic approaches that enable the study of lives and phenomena that crossed multiple boundaries. Nonetheless, some critics maintain that the field remains deeply tied to the recent increase in “global awareness” of U.S. colonial historians, giving much of Atlantic World scholarship a markedly British and North Atlantic orientation. As antidote to this British-North-Atlantic tendency, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra called a decade ago for the need to “Iberianize the Atlantic.” This Iberian Atlantic has since come of age, producing a wealth of scholarship and shaping models for localizing and Atlanticizing histories from capitalism to ethnogenesis. What is the future of Atlantic scholarship in this changing land(sea?) scape, and how will an Iberian World perspective inform it?
This roundtable will address the relevance of an Iberian World perspective in exploring the range and limitations of an Atlantic approach to the global transformations of the early modern world. Our brief remarks move the debate beyond a question of multiple “entangled” Atlantics to an approach that stresses the integration of diverse Atlantic experiences, which were themselves embedded within global phenomena. In doing so, we show how scholarship framed around the idea of an “Atlantic World” continues to generate significant historical questions and novel methodological approaches. Looking at the Atlantic from Iberian spaces from the Caribbean to India’s Fishery Coast, passing by Cacheu, Luanda, and São Tomé, we see how an Iberian Atlantic approach can localize global histories and globalize local ones. Our remarks emphasize an early modern Iberian Atlantic inhabited by mobile, active subjects of all races, whose lives were shaped by the global, transoceanic empires through which they moved. As the research highlighted in this roundtable indicates, the Atlantic World framework continues to reveal and confound in productive ways, allowing historians to test old and new narratives and methodologies and posit cogent and powerful answers of varied scopes and origins