BA Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
History of the Spanish Atlantic World: Empire, Trade, War

Course unit fact file
Unit code SPLA31151
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit explores a range of topics affecting the Spanish world on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during the early modern period, with an emphasis on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It adopts an Atlantic perspective to challenge the artificial division between the history of Peninsular Spain and those of its American ‘colonies’ to focus instead on the connections and shared developments which characterised the early modern trans-oceanic Spanish Monarchy. Thinking about the Atlantic Ocean as binding together rather than separating the Spanish world, students will analyse lives, dynamics and events which took place on the Ocean itself or which had significant repercussions on both sides of the Atlantic basin. Topics to be covered include the physical circulation of goods and peoples; the development of shared cultural and political dynamics central to everyday life in the Spanish world; the impact of piracy, war, and imperial reform; and the development of differentiated regional identities.



Available on which programme(s)? All programmes with Spanish; Programmes with History
Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)? Yes
Available to students on an Erasmus programme Yes
Pre/Co/Antirequisite units N/A
Medium of language English; certain readings and seminar materials will be assigned in Spanish but English translations or alternatives will be made available for students who do not read the language.


•    To develop detailed and nuanced understanding of key aspects of the Atlantic dimension of the early modern Spanish world
•    To develop an awareness of the geographically interconnected nature of the historical experience of different parts of the early modern Spanish world and of the importance of thinking beyond the borders of modern nations
•    To provide experience working with primary sources in order to understand and question historical events
•    To encourage, through group activities and seminar discussion, the development of skills for engaging in collaborative work, and for accepting and valuing the opinions and interpretations of others
•    To hone structure, coherence, clarity and fluency in written and oral expression

Teaching and learning methods

Each week the course tutor will give a lecture introducing the week’s topic and providing key contextual information. Students will then be required to read a selection of secondary materials in preparation for the seminars. During seminars the tutor will provide extracts from a variety of primary sources for students to work with, giving a brief overview of the sources and their context. Students will work with the sources in small groups addressing questions or solving problems directly related to them. The whole class will then discuss both the source-based activity and the week’s topic more generally.

Students will be encouraged to produce a formative essay half-way through the semester and to submit an answer to a self-timed mock-exam question towards the end of the semester.  

Through planning, researching and writing formative essays and receiving feedback on them, students will develop research skills, and familiarise themselves with library resources and ways to access them. These skills will then be assessed by a summative essay.

By answering a mock exam question and receiving feedback on it students will develop their ability to think and write under pressure in preparation for the actual exam. 

Knowledge and understanding

After successful completion of the unit, students will have:
•    Demonstrated detailed and nuanced understanding of key aspects of the Atlantic dimension of the early modern Spanish world
•    Demonstrated understanding of the advantages, challenges and limitations of adopting an Atlantic perspective for the study of the early modern world
•    Shown knowledge of how commerce and politics both bound the Spanish world together and created tensions between different territories
•    Shown familiarity with the kinds of primary sources that historians use to study the history of the early modern Spanish Atlantic, and demonstrated understanding of the complexities of and challenges posed by these sources  

Intellectual skills

After successful completion of the unit, students will have:
•    Worked critically with historical sources, questioning them from a variety of perspectives and with different objectives 
•    Engaged critically with historiographical debates, identifying and explaining competing historical arguments and positioning their own arguments within them
•    Compared, contrasted and criticized a variety of sources, combining and complementing them in order to contextualize and address specific problems
•    Formulated coherent and articulate historical arguments backed by evidence

Practical skills

After successful completion of the unit, students will have:
•    Gathered, organized and deployed evidence and information to form an historical argument
•    Worked autonomously, demonstrating self-direction, self-discipline and time management 
•    Confidently and successfully used historical primary sources  
•    Used the library to find appropriate physical and electronic resources and referenced them correctly
•    Worked under pressure

Transferable skills and personal qualities

After successful completion of the unit, students will have:
•    Compared and contrasted distinct cultural approaches to historical events
•    Worked creatively and flexibly with others, appreciating different points of view and recognising the value and insight provided by individuals who possess different information
•    Effectively communicated both orally and in writing using structures, coherence, clarity and fluency appropriate to different audiences
•    Gathered, organized and deployed evidence in marshalling an argument

Employability skills

Analytical skills
The course also requires students to reflect on how different motivations and cultural backgrounds lead to different experiences or interpretations of the same events, in turn encouraging the development of cultural awareness, empathy and respect for different viewpoints. Such skills are essential to a wide range of careers, particularly those requiring high level analysis and argumentation, and those with an international dimension.
This unit will be of benefit to students interested in a broad range of careers. It will be highly relevant to students considering postgraduate study in history or Latin American Studies, particularly those interested in the histories or cultures of the early modern Spanish world. The unit enhances skills of independent learning and research, the importance of analysing and evaluating conflicting, contradictory or unreliable sources and opinions when reaching informed judgements, and written reporting.

Assessment methods

Assessment TaskFormative or SummativeWeighting within unit (if Summative)
Scaffolded unessay task 1: annotated choice of topic and medium Formative and Summative15%
Scaffolded unessay task 2: detailed plan Formative and Summative30%
Scaffolded unessay task 3: unessay Summative55%

Resit Assessment:




Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Oral feedback to class and individual groups on work with primary sources 


Written feedback to individual students on annotated choice of topic and medium 

Formative and Summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment) at the students’ request 


Written feedback detailed unessay plan

Formative and Summative

Written feedback on final unessay


Recommended reading

  1. Harald E. Braun and Lisa Vollendorf, ‘The Atlantic Turn: Rethinking the Ibero-American Atlantic’, in Theorising the Ibero-American Altantic, ed. by H. E. Braun and L. Vollendorf (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 1-13.
  2. Carla Rahn Phillips, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986)
  3. Allyson M. Poska, ‘An Ocean Apart: Reframing Gender in the Spanish Empire’, in Women of the Iberian Atlantic, ed. by Sarah E. Owens and Jane E. Mangan (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012), pp. 37-56.
  4. Jane E. Mangan, Transatlantic Obligations: Creating the Bonds of Famly in Conquest-Era Peru and Spain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
  5. José Luis Gasch-Tomás, The Atlantic World and the Manila Galleons (Leiden: Brill, 2018)
  6. Ana Crespo Solana, ‘A Network-Based Merchant Empire: Dutch Trade in the Hispanic Atlantic (1680-1740)’, in Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680-1800: Linking Empires, Bridging Borders, ed. by Gert Oostindie and Jessica V. Roitman (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 139-159.
  7. Rebecca Earle, ‘Luxury, Clothing and Race in Colonial Spanish America’, in Luxury in the Eighteenth Century: Debates, Desires and Delectable Goods, ed. by Maxine Berg and Elizabeth Eger (New York: Plagrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 219-227. 
  8. Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, ‘Cycles of Silver: Global Economic Unity through the Mid-Eighteenth Century’, Journal of World History 13 (2002): 391-427. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Francisco Eissa Barroso Unit coordinator

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