Scholarly Source: Alex Borucki, David Eltis, and David Wheat, “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America”

European Exploration, Perception of the Other, and the Columbian Exchange 

How did the Columbian exchange link worlds?

Alex Borucki, David Eltis, and David Wheat, “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America,” American Historical Review 120 no. 2 (April 2015): 433-461

Alex Borucki is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine whose research focuses on the experience of African social networks and identity formation among slaves in colonial Latin America. David Eltis is Robert W. Woodruff Professor Emeritus of History at Emory University whose work looks at slavery and the slave trade. He is also co-editor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade database and is researching the origins of individual Africans whose names were recorded by slave traders. David Wheat is Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University and works in the areas of migration, slavery, and cross-cultural exchange.

Both the first and the last slave voyages to cross the Atlantic disembarked not very far from each other, in the Spanish colonies of Hispaniola (1505) and Cuba (1867). . . How puzzling that we know less about the size, nature, and significance of the African connection with Spanish America, especially the Spanish role in the slave trade, than we do about any other branch of the transatlantic traffic. . . Using the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database at, as well as new archival sources, we have conducted a new evaluation of the slave trade to the Spanish colonies. Our reassessment has given us a new appreciation of not only the African presence in the Spanish Americas, but also—given the links between slavery and economic power before abolition—the status of the whole Spanish imperial project. . . We now believe that as many as 1,506,000 enslaved Africans arrived in the Spanish Americas directly from Africa between 1520 and 1810. . . Two-thirds of the more than two million enslaved Africans arriving in the Spanish Americas disembarked before 1810—prior to the era of large-scale sugar cultivation in Cuba and Puerto Rico—which necessitates a reconsideration of the real significance of slavery in Spain’s American colonies. This large inflow is indeed remarkable when we remember that the labor force sustaining the most valuable export of these colonies—silver—was largely Amerindian. . . From 1640 to the end of the eighteenth century, the Spanish Empire’s links with Africa are seen as moribund, compared to the millions of Africans pouring into the non-Spanish Americas. References to a “second Atlantic” have recently appeared, denoting the period dominated by Northwestern Europe (England, France, and to a lesser extent the Netherlands), in contrast to the Iberian-led “first Atlantic.” Our calculations counter this view. The slave trade remained of central importance during all four centuries of Spanish colonialism in the New World. . . . While the Portuguese pioneered early modern European expansion along the coasts of Africa, it is often forgotten that Spanish mariners and merchants were close behind. . . . Spanish voyages transported enslaved Africans to the Canary Islands from the late fifteenth century; not only did these voyages increase in the 1530s, but a small number of them continued to the Americas with their captives, three decades before the Portuguese began a regular slave trade to Brazil.

Quiz Content

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. What do we know surprisingly little about according to Borucki, Eltis, and Wheat?

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. How many slaves do they estimate Spain brought to their colonies before 1810?

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. Why do the authors say this large number was even more "remarkable"?

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. What do the authors argue about the rate of the Spanish trade over time-did it stagnate or remain active?

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