Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

The Royal Navy, the Atlantic Ocean and the British Empire in the 18th century

Published: 1 July 2016
British Atlantic & Navy image

A new book, edited by University of Southampton historians Drs John McAleer and Christer Petley, discusses for the first time the importance of the Royal Navy in the expansion of the British Empire and the ‘British Atlantic World’ between 1750 and 1820.


An edited collection of single-author chapters, The Royal Navy and the British Atlantic World, c. 1750–1820 explores how the Navy was a catalyst for trade, communications and political decisions across the Atlantic Ocean. The findings will help historians, the heritage sector and the public better interpret our past.

The period 1750-1820 was dominated by war in Europe, particularly between Britain and France, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo. But it was also an important time for the ‘British Atlantic World’ – a world of empire, colonies, and commerce that flowed between Britain and the American colonies (including the West Indies and the Caribbean) around the Atlantic.

So how do you trade during times of conflict? The book argues that the Navy was crucial to the connectivity between Britain and its colonies, by protecting colonists and trade routes, and communicating news across the Atlantic.

As well as the slave trade, the book explores how the Navy assisted with the promotion (and later suppression) of slavery, and how slavery benefitted the Navy through tax revenues. It also considers the American Revolution, and how the Navy influenced the political dynamics between the American colonists and British Parliament in the run up to American independence.

“Through this collection of studies, we see that the Navy is more important than we previously thought; not just for British and Atlantic history, but global history,” says Dr Petley, who is a member of the University’s Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute (SMMI). “The history of Britain and the Navy are so closely entwined, we need to know the details to understand where we’ve come from.”

The book evolved from discussions at a conference convened at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth by McAleer and Petley, which was part-funded by the SMMI.

“We wanted to be ambitious, to map the Navy’s influence on the entire Atlantic World, including South America and South Africa,” says Dr McAleer, also an SMMI member. “The funding from SMMI allowed us to bring together a range of historians, from the UK and further afield, who were already looking at naval and Atlantic history, and develop those ideas further. We now have all of that amalgamated knowledge and research between two covers, which is very exciting.”

The Royal Navy and the British Atlantic World, c. 1750–1820 is available to purchase online as an ebook or in hardback format.


Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

Privacy Settings