Since we first began writing in terms of an Atlantic World, through C.L.R. James and Eric Williams, our interpretive apparatuses improved in a number of important ways. Not only have we been able to consider the transatlantic origins of capitalism, we have also extended our research frames beyond nations and continents, and we have gained fresh viewpoints on international relations and transnational processes. More recently, following the ascent of global considerations in academic and popular discourses, the Atlantic perspective also brought with it a focus on crossings, routes, and interconnectivity. As Stuart Hall once remarked about the Caribbean as a region, the Atlantic — as a geography, habitat, and a set of conceptual problems — has proven to be quite useful to think with.
The evidence is striking. In streams of white, red and black, the Atlantic has permeated much historical thinking on Africa, Europe, and the Americas, impacting our reasoning about race, culture, political economy, and the very nature of modernity itself. In fact, by virtue of various interdisciplinary undercurrents pushing scholarly work over the last century, the Atlantic became the first of all maritime regions to emerge as a field of study in its own right. Since the 1990s, countless pages have been written on a variety of Atlantic topics and a myriad of conferences, books and periodicals have been organized around Atlantic themes. And still, as we’ve become more oceanic, indeed more global, we have little to no sense of what remains to be gained by thinking in terms of an Atlantic World, both as a site of general analysis and perhaps even as a place of potentially distinct urban forms, social conflicts, and political transformations.
Rather than asking whether it benefits us to think in any terms characterized exclusively as Atlantic, this conference uses scholars’ ongoing and overlapping interest in oceanic histories and geographies to examine methods, approaches, and appropriate scales of analysis for considering human possibility and the environment. Indeed, as our oceans go through perilous times, we must face the globality of any oceanic question. From climate change to acidification, between pollution and storm intensification, human-made environmental threats are arising on several fronts. This has severe consequences for us all. Similarly, as our world is being swept by bigotry and nationalist rage, a whole range of new uncertainties encircle the globe. The condition of places like Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria or the fate of the thousands of migrants that have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, for instance, share both a material predicament and a symbolic significance. They represent, simultaneously, contemporary hardship that must be managed and historical conditions that must be acknowledged and duly considered. Atlantic scholarship has long dwelled at the meeting place of cities, climate, and capital, and it will remain there as we continue to evaluate the post-colonial and post-imperial condition going forward.
Originally published in 1953. Republished by UPNE in 2001.
Mariners, Renegades, and Capitalism grapples, as C.L.R. James once did, with a fundamental paradox, one exhibited to vivid degree in the Atlantic World: the drive toward growth and technocratic solutions in Western cultures, on the one hand, and the slow and steady overthrow of Euro-America as the source of universal learning and knowledge on the other. Through the lenses of the Atlantic, a multidisciplinary group of scholars will gather at New York University for a two-day symposium. Our aim will be to reflect on various aspects of Atlantic urbanism as part of a broader project of overturning and revising Eurocentric epistemes and twentieth-century analytic orthodoxies.
Even with the proliferation of transcontinental frameworks over the last several decades, one still finds two interrelated problems. The first is a narrow, Northern bias to most Atlantic scholarship. Much like elsewhere across the humanities and social sciences, Atlantic studies have been fundamentally shaped in or in relation to Europe and North America. The South Atlantic, despite the advances that have been made in recent years, remains relatively neglected in our theory building processes. Secondly, urbanism in the making of the Atlantic world often ignores the ocean itself as critical to the production of urban space around the Atlantic World. Environmental and maritime histories are urban histories, too. As such, actual cities and processes of urbanization processes must be linked, analytically, to oceanic and continental settings.
Mariners, Renegades, and Capitalism weighs the implications of privileging the South Atlantic as a source of theory and explanation. Its speakers will critically assess the ways in which their own approaches contribute to the continued development of postcolonial Atlantic urbanism. They will also detail how technologies of travel, commerce, and other human approaches to using and crossing oceans play central roles in their various research techniques and strategies. The point is to explore new paths of inquiry in Atlantic frameworks as well as to advance the development of oceanic thinking in urban, economic, and political analysis more broadly.