A couple of weekends ago the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture in Williamsburg hosted a conference titled “Emerging Histories of the Early Modern French Atlantic.” For those of you who were not at the conference, or did not have a chance to follow along via Twitter #oifrenchatl, Mairi Cowan of the University of Toronto at Mississauga has summarized the event at Borealia, a new blog devoted to early Canadian history.
Here is a taste of her post:
The early modernism of early Canadian history made a good showing last week in Williamsburg, Virginia. There, at the Emerging Histories of the Early Modern French Atlantic conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, about a hundred scholars gathered to discuss the connections around and across the Atlantic from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Co-organizers Brett Rushforth and Christopher Hodson said in their opening remarks that one of the conference’s goals was to transcend the boundaries of geography and periodization in the early modern French Atlantic. This crossing of boundaries proved to be a major theme of the conference, and one that has the potential to enrich the study of early Canadian history in interesting ways. In particular, it became clear that exciting work on early Canadian history is being vigorously pursued beyond Canada, and that scholarship on regions not normally associated with Canadian history as a field can provide valuable insights for early Canadianists.
Several papers at the conference were tied directly to early Canadian history, in the sense that their geographical scope included an area now within the borders of Canada. Taken together, these papers demonstrate that Canadian history is not restricted to scholars with Canadian addresses; early Canada, as a subject of study, has wide appeal. In the session on “Legalities”, Alexandra Havrylyshyn (University of California, Berkeley) interrogated the presumption that there were no lawyers in New France. In her paper “Practitioners and Procurators in the Litigious Society in New France: An Atlantic Perspective”, she argued for a departure from the common rigid definition of “lawyer” towards a broader understanding of a group of legal professionals that included practitioners and procurators. In the same session, Marie Houllemare (Université de Picardie Jules Verne) delivered a paper on “Penal Circulations in the French Atlantic, 18th century”. Some of the banishments she discussed were cases of people being sent to or from Canada. The session on “Cultures” also featured two papers with strong connections to early Canada. Céline Carayon (Salisbury University), in her paper “Embodied Empire? Communication, Sensibilities, and the Making of the French-Indian Atlantic World”, made a persuasive case for the role of gestures in a system of communication that was deeply embodied and sustained by individual connections grounded in physicality. My own paper, “Demons in New France and the Atlantic Anxieties of Early Canada”, considered how the demonology of New France included both European and North American features in response to Atlantic colonial anxieties. In the session on “Boundaries”, Thomas Wien (Université de Montréal) played with the notion of the “Space of flows” in his paper “Flows of the Space: New France and Central Europe, même combat?” Using images by Franz Xaver Habermann and various textual sources, he showed a surprising series of connections between New France and Central Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Helen Dewar (Boston College), for her part in the session “Religion and Power”, explored how commerce and religion were linked in the seventeenth-century French Atlantic through the example of “A Collaborative Enterprise: Financiers, Religious Orders, and the Company of New France”.
Read the entire report here