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Social and Economic Changes in the Atlantic World from 1492-1750 AD



From 1492 to 1750 the Atlantic World, which includes all of the continents whose borders touch the Atlantic Ocean, saw great change as explorers began to settle new worlds and trade expanded. Connections between Europe, Africa, and the Americas brought change socially and economically through the expansion of trade, including both human and inhuman commodities, and the natural gains and consequences of claiming a new world as your own.

Social Impacts

The Atlantic world was turned on its head socially due to the slave trade, expansion of trade, and the discovery of the new world. In Africa, slavery had already occurred. With the spread of Islam came Muslim merchants who would capture Africans and sell them throughout Arabia and the Indian Ocean at Islamic controlled trading ports. However, Africa’s new found connections with Europe and the Americas caused the slave trade to expand greatly. This time it was not foreigners who were capturing Africans but Africans themselves, who had made deals with slave traders in the New World and Europe. Often, local political leaders were involved. These underhanded political practices wreaked havoc socially. Members of royal families vied for control of captured slaves causing brutal and constant civil war, taking a nearly unbearable toll on the African people. In England, trade connections with Africa and the Americas caught the interest of Western Europe’s wealthy. Previously, agriculture and farming were jobs reserved for peasants, but since trade had become such a lucrative opportunity the upper class began to buy up land and start their own farms, hiring tenants to cultivate and sell their goods for them. Taking farming out of the hands of peasants and into the hands of the wealthy is what started what historians call “commercializing the country side. ”In America, social changes occurred through the assimilation of the Native Americans. European conquerors unwittingly brought with them diseases to which the Native Americans were not immune, killing a portion of the population. Along with disease Europeans also brought innovations the likes of which Native Americans had never seen before, including steel weapons. All of these things, the slave trade, commercialization of the countryside, and Native American assimilation contributed to societal changes in the Atlantic World.

Economic Effects

The Atlantic world was not only affected socially due to new global connections with trade and exploration, it was also affected economically. The merchants and political leaders who participated in the slave trade received European goods in return, such as tobacco, alcohol, and guns. Also because of the slave trade, the main source of money moved from rural areas of Africa to ports, where merchants maintained most of the wealth in the area. In Western Europe, trade with the America’s and Africa created a necessity for new innovations. The Dutch came through with a new type of boat they called a fluitschip. Conveniently, fluitschips were able to transport very heavy commodities like never before and with less crew. From this, the Dutch invented rudimentary forms of banking, stock exchange, and insurance for cargo. All of these economic changes occurred because of Europe’s connections to the rest of the Atlantic world. In America, European conquerors found what they were looking for: gold. Exploiting the surrounding tribes of Native Americans these European conquerors harvested all the gold they could find and killed anyone standing in their way. While this brought great riches to Spain it showed Spanish conquistadors in a barbaric and morally repugnant light. However, this did not stop them and they continued to wipe out entire civilizations up into Mesoamerica for gold and other riches. New connections through trade and exploration in the Atlantic world caused change economically by shifting the source of wealth in Africa, inspiring innovation in Europe, and giving Spain an incredible source of precious metals.


The Atlantic World, including the Americas, Europe, and Africa saw great change because of newfound connections between one another. The slave trade, other forms of trade, and the discovery and exploration of new worlds all contributed to social and economic change from 1492 to 1750.