Atlantic Wars by Geoffrey Plank

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Atlantic Wars by Geoffrey Plank and published by Oxford University Press. This is one of the shortlisted books for the Wolfson History Prize.

About the Prize

The Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually to promote and recognise outstanding history written for a general audience. First awarded in 1972, it remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability and excellence in writing and research.

Books are judged on the extent to which they are carefully researched, well-written and accessible to the non-specialist reader.

A shortlist of six books is announced in spring, followed by one overall winner in early summer.

The Wolfson History Prize is the most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, with the winner receiving a total prize of £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each.

The Prize is awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts & humanities.

 

Shortlisted Books

Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust’ by Rebecca Clifford

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh

Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe’ by Judith Herrin

Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood by Helen McCarthy

Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack by Richard Ovenden

Atlantic Wars: From the Fifteenth Century to the Age of Revolution by Geoffrey Plank

 

Atlantic Wars

In a sweeping account, Atlantic Wars explores how warfare shaped the experiences of the peoples living in the watershed of the Atlantic Ocean between the late Middle Ages and the Age of Revolution. At the beginning of that period, combat within Europe secured for the early colonial powers the resources and political stability they needed to venture across the sea. By the early nineteenth century, descendants of the Europeans had achieved military supremacy on land but revolutionaries had challenged the norms of Atlantic warfare.

Nearly everywhere they went, imperial soldiers, missionaries, colonial settlers, and travelling merchants sought local allies, and consequently they often incorporated themselves into African and indigenous North and South American diplomatic, military, and commercial networks. The newcomers and the peoples they encountered struggled to understand each other, find common interests, and exploit the opportunities that arose with the expansion of transatlantic commerce. Conflicts arose as a consequence of ongoing cultural misunderstandings and differing conceptions of justice and the appropriate use of force. In many theatres of combat, profits could be made by exploiting political instability. Indigenous and colonial communities felt vulnerable in these circumstances, and many believed that they had to engage in aggressive military action―or, at a minimum, issue dramatic threats―in order to survive. Examining the contours of European dominance, this work emphasizes its contingent nature and geographical limitations, the persistence of conflict and its inescapable impact on non-combatants’ lives.

Addressing warfare at sea, warfare on land, and transatlantic warfare, Atlantic Wars covers the Atlantic world from the Vikings in the north, through the North American coastline and the Caribbean, to South America and Africa. By incorporating the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Africans, and indigenous Americans into one synthetic work, Geoffrey Plank underscores how the formative experience of combat brought together widely separated people in a common history.

 

About the Author

Geoffrey Plank is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. His research examines early modern debates over conquest, settlement, warfare and slavery in the context of transatlantic imperialism. He is interested in the ways in which the European colonization of the Americas affected ordinary lives, and he has studied a variety of groups including French- and English-speaking colonists, Scottish Highlanders, Quakers and Native Americans. His current work explores the role of warfare in the creation of the Atlantic World.

 

Extract from the book:

The pervasive impact of warfare on life around the Atlantic in the early modern period becomes apparent only by examining the oceanic region as a whole. Military technologies and people travelled across the borders of states, colonies, and empires, and beyond the confines of islands and continents. Wars brought diverse people together in an intimate, shared experience. Sailors moved from private vessels to warships, sometimes voluntarily and often through mechanisms of forcible recruitment. As a consequence, during his lifetime a sailor might work and fight under a variety of captains flying different flags. People of indigenous American, African, and European descent fought alongside and against each other at sea and on land. Preparing for war and coping with its consequences involved inclusive communal efforts, drawing in women as well as men, children, and the aged from various parts of the Atlantic world. Some wars, like the Dutch wars against the Spanish in the early seventeenth century, the European imperial wars of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the wars of Revolutionary France and the Napoleonic era, directly engaged people in widely scattered regions. Even small-scale, localized conflicts were often shaped by transatlantic influences and had effects far beyond the combat zone. Wars in Africa, for example, had direct consequences for the colonies in the Caribbean and North and South America, where captives were sent for sale.

Scholars have long recognized that the lands surrounding the Atlantic have a distinct, shared history that transcends national or imperial boundaries. There has been an increase in interest in Atlantic history since the 1990s as historians have paid more attention to interactions between Africans, Europeans, and indigenous Americans. Compared to imperial historians, scholars who adopt an Atlantic perspective have a less hierarchical understanding of the relationship between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. They pay less attention to bureaucracy and imperial regulation and instead focus on migration, trade, and the exchange of ideas within a culturally diverse transatlantic environment. While good general surveys of Atlantic history exist, none concentrates on the formative influence of war.

Europeans never dominated land warfare in Africa, the Americas, or the islands of the Atlantic in the way they held the upper hand at sea. On the contrary, European colonists and expeditionary forces were frequently dependent on local allies. New ways of fighting developed as groups learned from each other. A pattern of scattered, isolated conflicts in the sixteenth century evolved into a series of large-scale transatlantic wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. States and empires became more dominant and widespread reactions against that trend triggered revolutionary struggles in many countries around the Atlantic. In the aftermath of the Age of Revolution, old patterns of cross cultural alliance fell into disfavour, helping to put an end to the early modern era of Atlantic war.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Ben McLusky from Midas PR for providing the extract.

Extract Text is © Geoffrey Plank

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4 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter

    Gosh, that does bring together a lot of diverse stuff (a bit like my massive history of the oceans book last year but in more manageable proportions).

    • Paul

      Wasn’t that about 1000 pages long or something like that?

      • Liz Dexter

        It was indeed. And in eBook format.

        • Paul

          Much easier to lift!

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