The best books in Atlantic cultural history

The Books I Picked & Why

Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

By John Thornton

Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

Why this book?

This is my favorite book on Atlantic history. It had a profound influence on the way I came to understand Black cultural and religious identity formation in the Americas. In this groundbreaking study, Thornton explores Africa’s involvement in the Atlantic world from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries with a focus on the causes and consequences of the slave trade. It teaches us to look at Africa during the era of the transatlantic slave trade with a new perspective; not as a pure, virgin continent where people only took pride in indigenous traditions, but as a dynamic space marked by inter- and extra-African cultural and religious mixtures to which not only Arab-Islamic but also European-Christian—predominantly Iberian-Catholic—elements contributed substantially.


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National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

By John Charles Chasteen

National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

Why this book?

In this fascinating study, Chasteen examines the historical experiences that molded Latin American popular dance from an Atlantic perspective. It delves into the “deep” history of Latin American culture and analyzes the development of dancing culture in its socio-historical context. This is not only a well-researched, but also a well written and oftentimes funny book that is broadly accessible. It is a must-read for any new scholar interested in the field of Black performance culture. Although the focus is on Latin America, Chasteen’s study reveals connections that are also of great importance to understanding the historical development of Black dance culture in North America.


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Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World

By Jon F. Sensbach

Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World

Why this book?

This book studies Black Christian identity formation from an Atlantic perspective. Using the rich archival materials of the Renewed Unity of Brethren, commonly called the Moravian Church, Sensbach tells the story of the Christianization process of the enslaved population on the Virgin Islands. He narrates the formation of the earliest Black Protestant congregation in the Americas from the perspective of an enslaved woman, Rebecca, who became a Moravian evangelist. Sensbach highlights the role of African agents like her in the dissemination of Christianity and reveals that, among the former, many had already familiarized themselves with Christianity prior to their arrival in the Americas.


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Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition

By Cécile Fromont

Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition

Why this book?

This edited volume studies Black festive traditions in the Americas that are rooted in African interpretations of early-modern Iberian customs. It shows how, from the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved and free Africans in the Americas used Catholic brotherhoods as spaces for cultural and religious expression, social organization, and mutual aid. By demonstrating that the syncretic development of certain Black performance traditions in the Americas is a phenomenon that already set in on African soil, it breaks with previous scholarship that (mis)interpreted these festive traditions in the Americas as new, Creole syncretisms. I am convinced that this pioneering book will strongly affect the way future generations of scholars will come to understand Black cultural and religious identity formation in the Americas.


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Origins of a Creole: The History of Papiamentu and Its African Ties

By Bart Jacobs

Origins of a Creole: The History of Papiamentu and Its African Ties

Why this book?

This book studies Atlantic cultural history from the perspective of language, with a focus on Curaçao. A unique characteristic of this small Caribbean island is that its colonial rulers spoke Dutch, whereas the Black population used an Afro-Iberian creole called Papiamentu as its lingua franca. Jacob’s study embarks on an intriguing quest for the origins of this language, tracing it back to Portuguese-based creoles from the Cape Verde Islands and the nearby African West Coast. It argues that this seventeenth-century Portuguese-based creole later underwent significant Spanish influence and thereby constitutes a case of “reduplicated language contact.”


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