Re(cursively)-conceptualizing Atlantic History

Next semester, for the first time, I get to teach an Atlantic history survey.  I’ve taught a lot of courses that think Atlantically, but never one which has the Atlantic as a specific subject.  Looking back over the syllabuses I designed when I was on the market, I realized that I was subject to the (common, I think, but hopefully increasingly uncommon) trap of too-often letting British imperial history stand in for Atlantic history.  So, a few days before book orders are due, I’m tearing apart the course and stitching it back together.  Shamelessly riffing on Michael Jarvis’s syllabus, I want to try to arrange the class around sites where Atlantic processes and identities are constructed.  I’m hoping this will mean that the historical specificity of encounters will become clear to students, which the broader arc of the class will illustrate the ways in which the Atlantic has been constructed and reconstructed over time.

In pursuit of some case studies, I pulled up a timeline that my colleagues at NYU and I created in 2007-8 as we were preparing for exams.  We pooled our expertise, and tried to identify the major turning points, events and eras in Atlantic history, along with the scholars who wrote about them.  This morning, I dropped the entire thing into Timeline.js.  In some ways, the resulting document says more about our early-grad school conceptions of the field than anything else – our decisions about what makes colonialism different from imperialism seems under theorized, for example. However, I also think it does a good job of showing the spaces that Atlantic history touches.

Hopefully, the 8-years-past versions of ourselves won’t be judged too harshly for our categorization and periodization – and perhaps this thing might even become useful for other budding Atlanticists in the future.  I might continue to add to this – or I might just leave it as an artifact of what the state of Atlantic history seemed to be for five anxious people at NYU nearly a decade ago.

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