Introducing Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History

I have been waiting for the arrival of Borealia, a new blog on early Canadian history edited by Keith Grant, a Ph.D candidate in history at New Brunswick University, and Denis McKim, a historian at Douglas College in British Columbia.

Here is a taste of the blog prospectus:

Borealia (bor-ee-al-ya) is a new academic group blog on early Canadian history, featuring writing by regular, occasional, and guest contributors. It can be found at
We begin with the basic assumption that the field of early Canadian history is vibrant and varied. It may be a bit of a stretch to claim that, “We are all Canadianists now,” but with the Atlantic turn in historiography, it is no longer only Canadian-based scholars that integrate the northern half of the continent into their narratives. Early Canadian sessions, encouragingly, were a major presence at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture (Halifax, June 2014), and at the American Society for Environmental History (Washington, March 2015). The field is healthy and robust, and we have plenty to talk about.
The goal of Borealia is to provide an energetic, professional, and respectful space for conversation about research and teaching in early Canadian history. We believe that a dedicated forum for discussion, alongside broader historical associations and publications, will nurture informal networks of scholars and will demonstrate the vitality of the field among colleagues and the public.
Borealia (“northern”) is a title expansive enough to take in the breadth of our field. We are interested in all regions of what eventually became Canada, to about 1867, and connections to the wider world. We hope our contributors will reflect the diversity of our field, encompassing cultural, intellectual, political, religious, economic, and other perspectives, and will come from every stage of academic careers. We will strive to have content in both English and French.
We intend the tone of the blog to be positive, focused on content and ideas, respectful and civil in conversation, and professional. If the blog were a restaurant, it would be “casual fine dining.” We anticipate a modest but regular schedule of blog posts, which will include brief work-in-progress profiles, research notes, timely historical commentary, author interviews and book reviews, reflections on teaching and career development, digital and public history, and conference recaps.
The early American historians at the Junto have posted a short interview with Grant and McKim. Here is a taste: 

JUNTO: For those of us whose research interests straddle the present-day borders of the United States and Canada, this seems like a potentially wonderful resource. What about those early Americanists who don’t focus on the Canadian or Maritime colonies — why should they read Borealia? And more broadly, why should they pay attention to what was going on in Halifax, Kingston, and/or Québec? 
GRANT: I think I’d start by saying there is no early “American” or “Canadian” history (at least before 1776). Rather there are histories of Indigenous peoples, environments, Imperial powers, and cultures that aren’t easily contained by later national borders. And including Halifax or Québec (or, say, the West Indies) in narratives of Colonial or Revolutionary America show how contingent, rather than inevitable, the American story was. We could also add that there are so many “American” stories that begin or continue across the border; think of the Iroquois Confederacy, Loyalist refugees, or the Acadian diaspora, for just a few examples. Historiographically, this transnationalism goes the other way, too: histories of early Canada benefit from considering comparative, continental, or Atlantic approaches.

MCKIM: It’s been said that, “when America sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” Needless to say, due to the dramatic asymmetries that exist between the two countries in terms of size and clout, the reverse simply isn’t true. Still, paying attention to Canada can be beneficial, especially for historians of early America. For instance, picking up on Keith’s point about the usefulness of comparative scholarship, examining early Canada can shed light on the question of whether aspects of colonial America and the early republic were unique or, rather, symptomatic of broader phenomena evident elsewhere in North America.

JUNTO: Now, for those early Americanists convinced that they need to start paying attention to Canada, what advice do you have? What books, articles, archival repositories, conferences, and/or digital resources would you recommend as good starting points for early Americanists looking to become familiar with early Canadian history?

GRANT: Probably the best clearinghouse for primary sources and teaching links for Canadian history is hosted by The History Education Network. Be sure to check outElectronic New France, too. Early Canadian Online (a subscription service) and the onlineDictionary of Canadian Biography are also valuable. While not primarily focused on earlyCanada, readers should check out: NiCHE, a network of Canadian environmental historians; Active History, a site that specializes in historically-informed commentary on contemporary issues; and the blog for the journal of Atlantic Canada, Acadiensis.

Researchers interested in Canadian collections could start with Library and Archives Canada and the Archives Canada gateway.

There is not (yet) a conference dedicated to early Canadian history, though there would be sessions of interest at the annual Canadian Historical Association meetings, and at specialized events such as the upcoming Omohundro conference on Emerging Histories Of The Early Modern French Atlantic (we have plans to have a report from that one atBorealia!).

MCKIM: Keith’s compiled a thorough list of online resources, to which I have precious little to add! I might tack on a few lively blogs—specifically, Christopher Moore’sAndrew Smith’s, and Keith Mercer’s—that feature early Canadian content.

As for books and articles, illuminating works that situate early Canada in an expansive context that includes material familiar to early Americanists include: Elizabeth Mancke, “Another British America: A Canadian Model for the Early Modern British Empire,”Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 25, no. 1 (January 1997): pp. 1-36; Allan Greer, “National, Transnational, and Hypernational Historiographies: New France Meets Early American History,” Canadian Historical Review 91, no. 4 (December 2010): pp. 695-724; and Stephen J. Hornsby and John G. Reid, eds., New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005).

3 thoughts on “Introducing Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History

  1. Read closer, Tom. “America” is placed in quotations precisely for the reason you cite: “There is no early “American” or “Canadian” history (at least before 1776). Rather there are histories of Indigenous peoples, environments, Imperial powers, and cultures that aren’t easily contained by later national borders.”

    Also, there were approximately 70,000 Loyalist refugees; the Iroquois Confederacy not only lasted more than 50 years, but continues to the present; and Acadian refugees went to several places other than Louisiana.


  2. We could also add that there are so many “American” stories that begin or continue across the border; think of the Iroquois Confederacy, Loyalist refugees, or the Acadian diaspora, for just a few examples.

    “American” with “scare quotes” around it is not doing me here. American doesn't need “scare” “quotes” around “it.”

    It means the USA. Jesus, do we have to fight over “every” “word” these “days?” Wearin' me out here. American = USA. Canada and Mexico gotta get their own identity instead of trying to glom onto ours. You're not America!

    Iroquois Confederacy, Loyalist refugees, or the Acadian diaspora

    These're “stories,” which is cool, but they're not history as much as anthropology. The Iroquois Confederacy lasted 50 years tops, the Loyalist refugees numbered only in the thousands from a nascent American nation of millions, [Does anyone have a count?]

    and the Acadian diaspora is like really cool but has not many “penumbras” and “emanations” outside of “Louisiana.”

    Sorry, he started it with the scare quotes on “American.” Everybody the whole world over knows what “American” means, and it ain't this.


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