Origins of Revolution in the Atlantic World

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Americas, Europe, and Africa formed part of a world intimately connected by the exchange of peoples, goods, and ideas across the Atlantic Ocean. In this article, we look at the most important transformations that shaped that Atlantic world by the middle of the 18th century. The Enlightenment produced a revolution in ideas and culture. A commercial and trade revolution increasingly tied together all the peoples of the Atlantic world, andEngland had begun to enter into the early years of one of the most important economic changes in human history—the Industrial Revolution. Finally, new political theories ushered in an age of political revolutions. These transformations in ideas, economics, and politics mark the beginning of what today we call the modern world.

By the 18th century, the Americas, Europe, andAfrica formed part of a world intimately connected by the exchange of peoples, goods, and ideas.

  1. Centuries of European immigration, the slave trade, and commerce had created an Atlantic world.
  2. Ideas crisscrossed theAtlantic (North and South), as well as peoples and goods.
  3. This exchange became especially important by the second half of the 18th century. 

What we call the modern world emerged in the 18th century.

  1. The Enlightenment was the great intellectual and cultural transformation of the 18th century.
  2. In economic terms, the great transformation of the late 18th century is the Industrial Revolution, beginning in England but with ripples and repercussions around the globe.
  3. The political revolutions, beginning with the 13 colonies in 1776 andFrance in 1789, formed the third great transformation leading to the creation of the modern world.

These great transformations—intellectual, economic, and political—ripple and rumble across the Atlantic world in the 18th century.

A. The Enlightenment is a broad and general term for a series of intellectual and cultural changes across the 18th century.

  1. The Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries brought to prominence among intellectuals the centrality of the scientific method as the principal means of discovering and evaluating knowledge.
  2. Reason was the great watchword of the age, as philosophers and intellectuals challenged the traditional importance of faith.
  3. In turn, this led to powerful challenges to organized religion, especially the Catholic Church.
  4. The broad skepticism of the era produced a general questioning of all authority, religious and civil.
  5. The 18th century also gave birth to that great political tradition that has dominated politics in the Western world for most of the past two centuries: liberalism.
  6. Although many European countries contributed to and participated in the Enlightenment, its center was France.
  7. One final cultural transformation of the age runs counter and parallel to the Enlightenment, Romanticism.

B. While the Enlightenment transforms the intellectual and cultural landscape of the Atlantic world in the 18thcentury, the Industrial Revolution produces equally revolutionary economic changes.

  1. The Industrial Revolution, at its core, is a technological transformation accompanied by profound repercussions in social organization and economic growth.
  2. Although it emerges first in England in the second half of the 18th century, it is built on changes that had been taking place in the first half of the century.
  3. The most important of these early changes were an impressive expansion in transatlantic and global trade and a profound transformation in agriculture and labor systems across the Atlantic world.
  4. England may have been the center of an industrial revolution, but it was also at the heart of an Atlantic and global economic revolution.

C. The great political transformation of the late 18thcentury is both a cause and a consequence of the age of revolution.

  1. The American Revolution is the beginning of the age of revolution in the Atlantic world.
  2. The French Revolution accelerates the great process of change on both sides of theAtlantic.
  3. Both revolutions emerge out of the influences of the intellectual and economic changes of the 18th century.
  4. Both then become powerful stimuli that influence the rise of other revolutions in the Atlantic world.

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