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“In Greek mythology, the titan Atlas supported the pillars that held heaven and earth apart. The pillars rested in the sea beyond the western horizon in the “Sea of Atlas” - now known as the Atlantic. Today we know that the Atlantic began to open about 180 million years ago, and is still widening by some 25mm per year.” A surface area of 106 million km including adjoining seas, the Atlantic Ocean covers approximately 19% of the earth’s surface. Its currents play a vital role in regulating the earth’s temperature, absorbing and redistributing heat. Some of the world's largest rivers run into the Atlantic, including the Amazon, Mississippi, St. Lawrence, Congo, Orange, Niger, Senegal, and Volta.

In addition to the ocean, the Atlantic World includes continents and numerous islands. Contact among the inhabitants of these land masses has been the subject of intense debate. There is some historical evidence that several ancient and medieval European, African and Asian civilizations established contact with the Americas prior to Columbus’s voyage. The great cultural and biological exchange that followed Columbus’s arrival in the New World continued to grow in scope and magnitude throughout the colonial period and continues today. The exchange of plants, animals, and pathogens has changed the natural environment of the two hemispheres.

The transatlantic slave trade reached its highest volume in the latter half of the 18th century when an average of more than 70,000 persons were transported per year. According to W. E. B. Du Bois, “that sinister traffic, on which the British Empire and the American Republic were largely built, cost black Africa no less than 100,000,000 souls, the wreckage of its political and social life, and left the continent in precisely that state of helplessness which invites aggression and exploitation.” Two hundred years ago, Great Britain (1807) and the United States (1808) declared the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade although slavery continued. Simultaneously, profound new world liberal ideals, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were spreading rapidly.

Issues of great historical, social, political, artistic, cultural, environmental, health, and commercial import will be examined through the Year of the ATLANTIC WORLD as we look for better ways to understand the relationships that connect people around this great body of water and look to identify ways that we can promote mutually beneficial development in peace and security.