Atlantic Ocean

This learning pathway will provide you with an understanding of the Atlantic world at the opening of the Early Modern period of World history. The Atlantic world is used to describe the interactions between peoples and rulers around the rim of the Atlantic Ocean – that is Europe, North America, South America and Africa. As travel overland was difficult during this period, settlements were established along the coast, and extensive maritime trading networks were established. By the early 1600s, European merchants had established trade networks across the Atlantic ocean. A circular trade pattern developed. Luxury commodities in great demand in Europe included sugar, spices, tea and furs, and these were acquired from the distant lands of India, China and the Americas. European settlers in the Americas began using large numbers of African slaves to grow crops for export to Europe, such as sugarcane and tobacco. Portuguese, and later Dutch merchants acquired these slaves from trading posts in West Africa, transporting them to the Americas. They then returned to Europe with commodities to sell. The slave trade and Atlantic economy had major demographic and economic impacts.

During this learning pathway you will watch two video lectures and read a number of articles. You will also view some primary source material from the period under study, consisting of images depicting the slave trade.



  • Obtain an overview of the impact of European trade and colonization in Asia and the Americas at the opening of the seventeenth century.
  • Learn about the global networks of exchange established by Spanish and Portuguese merchants, and later Dutch and English merchants.
  • Consider the religious, political and economic motivations that influenced exploration, settlement and trade.
  • Develop an understanding of the slave trade.
  • Examine demographic shifts and settlement patterns in the Americas during this period.