The Author’s Corner with Lawrence Hatter

citizens-of-convenienceLawrence Hatter is Assistant Professor of History at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, Citizens of Convenience: The Imperial Origins of American Nationhood on the U.S.-Canadian Border (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Citizens of Convenience?

LH: Citizens of Convenience, like most first books, is based on my doctoral dissertation. I first encountered the Canada merchants who are the main actors in my study while working as a graduate research assistant at the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. I discovered the edited volumes of a prominent Detroit merchant, John Askin. I wrote a seminar paper on Askin during my first year at UVa. and the project grew from there to embrace research in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Citizens of Convenience?

LH: The American people were not present at their birth; rather, the imperial projects of U.S. policymakers and their agents on the ground used the border to distinguish the American people as a distinct sovereign community during the early nineteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Citizens of Convenience?

LH: Because it will put my kids through college(?!).  More seriously, my book helps to reveal the ways in which American nationhood and empire were intertwined during the Founding. It is clear that the American Revolution was not an expression of national awakening; rather, my book shows how the United States realized nationhood by colonizing the West. Citizens of Convenience explains how U.S. imperialism worked at different scales, from the local to the international. This is why the Canada merchants at the heart of my study are so revealing: their transatlantic lobbying apparatus and transcontinental commercial networks influenced politics from high level diplomacy in the great European capitals to everyday interactions between traders and U.S. agents in places like Detroit and Saint Louis.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

LH: I abandoned plans to become a barrister when I was about 16 and decided that I wanted to be a lecturer. I read mostly 17th and 18th century British and American history as an undergraduate in the U.K., so it was an unthinking decision to become an Americanist (though, like many of my generation, I tend to look outward from the thirteen colonies, rather than inward).

JF: What is your next project?

LH: I am beginning work on a study of American overseas merchant communities during the Age of Revolution. Looking at how merchants managed to negotiate the dangers and opportunities of Independence in places like Algiers and Canton will hopefully offer new insight into how the United States managed to establish its credentials as a sovereign nation in the global community of nations.

JF: Thanks, Lawrence!

More New Books on Early Canadian History

LittleBack in May we reported on Keith Gtant’s Borealia post on new books in early Canadian history.  Today we report on Part 2 of his roundup.

Here is a taste:

Welcome to Part 2 of Borealia’s 2016 roundup of forthcoming books on early Canadian history. (You can find Part 1 here.) The list is drawn from publishers’ catalogues and websites, including books scheduled for release in 2016. I have included a few recently-released titles that escaped my attention in January.

What kinds of books made it into this preview? Works of historical scholarship on any region of what eventually became Canada, to about 1870. I have included books that place “Canada” in transnational studies, and books whose chronological coverage extends beyond 1870, as long as there is substantial discussion of the early period. Naturally, this is all quite subjective, and my survey has likely overlooked a few titles. So please use the comments below or the contact form to suggest additional titles. 

A lot of good stuff here.

New Books in Early Canadian History

People and the BayI am a sucker for online roundups of new books. Over at Borealia blog, Keith Grant, the blog co-proprietor and a SSHRC Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholar, introduces us to some new books on early Canadian history.

Here is a taste:

Welcome to the first Borealia roundup of forthcoming books on early Canadian history. The list includes books scheduled for release in 2016, with information compiled from publishers’ catalogues and websites. I plan to post Part 2 later in the year to highlight Fall titles.

What kinds of books made it into this preview? Works of historical scholarship on any region of what eventually became Canada, to about 1870. I have included books that place “Canada” in transnational studies, and books whose chronological coverage extends beyond 1870, as long as there is substantial discussion of the early period. Naturally, this is all quite subjective, and my survey has likely overlooked a few titles. So please use the comments or the contact form below to suggest additional titles.

The books are listed by month of scheduled release. Descriptions have been supplied by the publishers, unless otherwise noted….

The People and the Bay: A Social and Environmental History of Hamilton Harbour, by Nancy B. Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank (UBC Press, January 2016).

“In 1865, John Smoke braved the ice on Burlington Bay to go spearfishing. Soon after, he was arrested by a fishery inspector and then convicted by a magistrate who chastised him for thinking that he was at liberty to do as he pleased “with Her Majesty’s property.” With this story, Nancy Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank launch their history of the relationship between the people of Hamilton, Ontario, and Hamilton Harbour (a.k.a. Burlington Bay). From the time of European settlement through to the city’s rise as an industrial power, townsfolk struggled with nature, and with one another, to champion their particular vision of “the bay” as a place to live, work, and play. As Smoke discovered, the outcomes of those struggles reflected the changing nature of power in an industrial city. From efforts to conserve the fishery in the 1860s to current attempts to revitalize a seriously polluted harbour, each generation has tried to create what it believed would be a livable and prosperous city.”

Fragile Settlements: Aboriginal Peoples, Law, and Resistance in South-West Australia and Prairie Canada, by Amanda Nettelbeck, Russell Smandych, Louis A. Knafla, Robert Foster (UBC Press, February 2016).

“Fragile Settlements compares the processes through which British colonial authority was asserted over Indigenous peoples in south-west Australia and prairie Canada from the 1830s to the early twentieth century. At the start of this period, as a humanitarian response to settlers’ increased demand for land, Britain’s Colonial Office moved to protect Indigenous peoples by making them subjects under British law. This book highlights the parallels and divergences between these connected British frontiers by examining how colonial actors and institutions interpreted and applied the principle of law in their interaction with Indigenous peoples “on the ground.””

Read the entire list here. And stay tuned to Borealia for Part 2.

Is Early American History Experiencing a “Canadian Turn?”

New FranceJeffers Lennox of Wesleyan University thinks so.

Here is a taste of his piece at Borealia:

The American Revolution wasn’t simply American. The Early National period was hardly national at all. From 1774 to at least 1815, regional linkages and continental strategies shaped the development of American states and British provinces as people, policies, and ideas traversed a porous and fluid border. Ironically, loyal British colonies were less foreign to Americans in the late eighteenth century than Canada is to Americans today. Colonial and early American newspapers carried news from Halifax and Montreal; Revolutionary politicians, military figures, and leading intellectuals paid close attention to developments in the northern colonies; and American geographies published in the 1790s had entries on (and maps of) most of the British colonies.

Historians, it seems, have gotten in the way. The emergence of national narratives on both sides of the border has bifurcated what was a shared history. Lately, however, American historians have begun looking north in ways that reflect the attitudes, curiosities, and ideas of their ancestors. Leading scholars at major American institutions have recently tackled the Acadians (expelled from their “American homeland”), loyalists and late loyalists, Joseph Brant and the Six Nations, and the War of 1812.[1] Borealia, its American sibling The Junto, and those who contribute to these important resources have made crystal clear that the new generation of American historians considers Canada a worthy subject of inquiry.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Peter Macleod

McLeodPeter Macleod is Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Canada. This interview is based on his new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Making of the American Revolution (Knopf, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Northern Armageddon?

PM: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham is the most important single event in Canadian military history. So for an eighteenth-century Canadian military historian like myself, it’s almost impossible NOT to want to write about the battle at some point.

Moreover, I found previous histories of 1759 to be deeply frustrating. There were many fine works by fine historians, but they tended be about the campaign and devote very little space to the actual engagement. I wanted to examine the battle in detail in order to understand how and why it turned out the way it did. In the end, I concluded that decisions by individual soldiers, sailors, and warriors, rather than the efforts of James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, determined the outcome of the battle.

At the same time, I wanted to trace the link between troops exchanging fire and the course of North American history. (Too many military histories simply assert that a given battle is important, without going into detail as to why.) So Northern Armageddon ends with chapters that portray the battle as one event in the transformation of the continent from a Native American homeland to a region occupied by two settler nations, the United States and Canada.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Northern Armageddon?

PM: American soldiers, sailors, and merchant ships played important roles in the siege and capture of Quebec in 1759. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was an American as well as a French-British battle, and influenced the course of American history.

JF: Why do we need to read Northern Armageddon?

PM: To understand how American sailors on the St. Lawrence River and American soldiers fighting a battle on top of a cliff in Canada helped to pave the way for American independence. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PM: I became an American historian as I researched and wrote Northern Armageddon. To my considerable surprise, wherever I looked in I had thought was a French-British-Native American battle I kept running into Americans. The Rangers and Royal American Regiment, I already knew about. But I had no idea that fleets of American merchant ships were sailing up the St. Lawrence, New England sailors were serving in the Royal Navy, and American soldiers were taking their places all along Wolfe’s battle line. Before long, I had reached the conclusion that the attack on Quebec was an Anglo-American operation that would not have been possible without American participation.

JF: What is your next project?

PM: Backs to the Wall: the Battle of Sainte-Foy and the Conquest of Canada, which will be published this fall.

The battle of the Plains of Abraham has an intriguing but little-known sequel. Six months later in 1760, the same French and British armies met again on the same battlefield. This time, the French won a dramatic victory and besieged the British garrison of Quebec. Inside Quebec, British morale collapsed. For a while, it looked as if they might take back the city and overturn the results of 1759. 

The Royal Navy arrived in time to break the siege and American merchant ships resupplied the garrison. But the French victory at Sainte-Foy reminds us that history is not graved in stone.  The Plains of Abraham may be an important battle, but if things had turned out differently in the spring of 1760 it would be a historical footnote.

JF: Thanks, Peter!


Losing the Revolution

loyalistsWe have mentioned Borealia here before.  It is relatively new blog devoted to early Canadian history.  Not only is the blog attractive, but it has also been putting out some really good content.  In the past couple of months Keith Grant and Denis McKim have published some thoughtful posts on the history of loyalism during the age of the American Revolution.

A case in point is Taylor Stoermer‘s recent piece, “Let’s Play Again: Recovering ‘The Losers’ of the American Revolution.”

I like how Stoermer frames his post.  Here is a taste:

Much has been made lately of the rediscovery of the American Revolution by scholars as a series of questions that remain unresolved.  Both veteran historians and those new to the field (although those groups aren’t mutually exclusive) are, through conferences and colloquia and online forums, exploring this ostensibly transformative event of the late eighteenth century on something close to the level of those who lived through it, now that we are in a “post-Atlantic” historiographical moment.  Mostly gone are the debates that left the study of revolutionary history somewhat moribund, as neo-whigs and neo-progressives, even a neo-tory or two, marched away from the field without a decisive victor, as their concerns were abandoned like an unnecessary baggage train, in favor of shifting interests towards exploring discrete groups in provincial America, the Early Republic, and what was left of British North America.  But now revolutionary history is in the midst of something of a renaissance, which as a historian of the Revolution, I can only applaud, even as I watch with no small wonder as historians largely dismiss the work of older, yet still very much relevant, scholars in favor of their new pursuits of intellectual happiness.

Nevertheless, it is an exciting moment for those of us who still find the American Revolution a puzzling and exciting field of inquiry, especially because, as one looks more closely at it, the more it resembles an exercise in fauvism, devolving into tiny points of colorful interest that reveal patterns missed by earlier observers.  The danger, of course, is in remaining so focused on the small points that the larger picture is lost, as happens in so many micro-histories, as valuable as many of them are in recovering the stories of the heretofore unsung men and women who made most of the history of the period.  After all, as Henry David Thoreau reminded us in his reflections on “Revolutions” that “The hero is but the crowning stone of the pyramid—the keystone of the arch…. The most important is apt to be some silent and unobtrusive fact in history” (Journal, 27 December 1837).  And such an approach helps us to avoid the pitfall, into which many of us can trip, of considering whatever happened in eighteenth-century North America that divided the British world from an American one, as part of a grand, impersonal scheme of processes and mentalities, almost Calvinistically predetermined by the forces of social change that led inexorably from the colonial to the early national period of U.S. History (leaving Canada, unfortunately but conveniently, out of the picture).

But there remains that pesky question of just what was so revolutionary about the period in between the colonial era and the Early Republic, what we call the American Revolution?  The fact that it now seems to be an open question for scholars, perhaps for the first time, whether sitting at a university or in an armchair, is invigorating enough.  The first historians of the Revolution, such as Mercy Otis Warren and John Marshall, never doubted for a moment that there was something transformative about it.  Their primary concern, however, was not whether such a transformation took place, but who was responsible for it, and therefore could define it for contemporaries and posterity.  That we can freshly approach the people and events of the period, without being weighed down by the ideological baggage of centuries, but also without ignoring it, should drive an entire new era of scholarship that puts the colorful points, many of which have only dimly been perceived, back into the broader picture.

For me, the overlooked people who are most interesting are the loyalists, and properly defining them, as my work seeks to do, along with that of other historians with similar interests, can reveal a whole new revolutionary history, one that not only breaks down our understanding of the period’s freighted language, like “patriot” and “tory,” but that might make us entirely redefine what we mean when we say “the American Revolution.”

Read the rest here and stay tuned to Borealia for the second part of Stoermer’s piece.

Interested in Early Canada?


Borealia, the website which has quickly become the go-to source for all things early Canada, gives us a glimpse of some forthcoming book on the subject.  Here is Keith Grant’s introduction to the booklist:

Welcome to the first Borealia roundup of forthcoming books on early Canadian history. The list includes books scheduled for release in 2016, with information compiled from publishers’ catalogues and websites. I plan to post Part 2 later in the year to highlight Fall titles.

What kinds of books made it into this preview? Works of historical scholarship on any region of what eventually became Canada, to about 1870. I have included books that place “Canada” in transnational studies, and books whose chronological coverage extends beyond 1870, as long as there is substantial discussion of the early period. Naturally, this is all quite subjective, and my survey has likely overlooked a few titles. So please use the comments or the contact form below to suggest additional titles.

Read the entire list here.

The State of Loyalist Studies

Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History continues to produce solid content.  For example, today I read Christopher Minty’s post on the future of loyalist studies.  As someone who does not write too much about loyalists, I found it to be a short and very useful overview.

Here is a taste:

Defining “loyalist” is difficult for a number of reasons. Many of the problems relate to grouping loyalists together. Those white and black men and women who, at one stage, opposed America’s revolutionaries had different backgrounds. Their stories were rarely comparable, and contrasting impulses underpinned their allegiance. Furthermore, many loyalists were not really loyalists at all. As one contemporary noted during the Revolutionary War, people “wait[ed] to go with the stronger.” That is, they sided with the strongest military, or political, presence. Their ideological or political beliefs mattered less than their lived reality.[3]
Definitions are tricky, of course, but some have been quick to criticize when one is not offered. Philip Ranlet, in a 2014 article in The Historian, criticized Jasanoff’s George Washington- and National Book Critics-prize-winning Libertys Exiles for not providing a rigid definition of “loyalist.”[4]
Back in Nova Scotia, in answer to the question on defining “loyalist,” I remarked that a tiered framework could be useful. I have developed this idea, in an episode of The JuntoCast. The number of tiers would vary, but it would work like this: those who were committed loyalists, individuals dedicated to the restoration of British rule, would be a “Tier 1” loyalist. Those who changed sides, people like Peter Van Brugh Livingston, Jr., would be further down the scale.
This could be a workable tool for teaching purposes, but I do not think it can be used to further scholarship. If one adds too many tiers with hopes of understanding how the Revolutionary War affected ordinary people, then the term “loyalist” becomes meaningless—if everyone was, at one point, a “loyalist,” no one was a “loyalist.” Simply put, by asking what a “loyalist” is indefinitely, we run the risk of missing the forest from the trees.
Where, then, do we go from here? Like Brendan McConville, I do not have an open-access Manifesto for Loyalist Studies. But, like Woody Holton advocates, a return to microhistorical, comparative studies might offer a new direction. Indeed, a focus on the lived reality of people during the Revolutionary War, individuals who, for whatever reason, did not support America’s revolutionaries, could trigger a new direction in loyalist studies. That is to say, by focusing less on “what is” and focusing more on “what happened, and why,” we might begin to understand the contrasting local impacts of war, investigating how and why it affected people in distinct, though related, ways.

Newspapers and British Identity in 18th-Century Quebec City and Halifax

If you have not discovered Borealia, you should go check it out.  The editors of this blog are pushing us to expand our understanding of early America to include Canada. (Of course scholars have been doing this for a long time, but I appreciate the effort of the folks at Borealia to bring the conversation to a larger reading public).

I just finished reading Keith Grant’s excellent review of Michael Eamon’s Imprinting Britain: Newspapers, Sociability, and the Shaping of British North America. Eamon uses newspapers to show how the so-called “public sphere” found its way to the British cities of Quebec City and Halifax.  I have been fascinated with these kinds of studies since graduate school.  Discussions of print culture, sociability, and the Enlightenment in early America influenced my 2008 book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.

Here is a taste of Keith Grant‘s review:

Eamon’s cultural definition of Britishness also includes the moderate Enlightenment’s emphasis on “useful” and “improving” knowledge. He gives us enticing glimpses of Haligonians who participated, however modestly, in the transatlantic Republic of Letters, as well as the surprising liberality of Governor Frederick Haldimand’s Quebec Library. Newspapers, almanacs, and magazines disseminated Enlightenment science in abridged form to a broad reading public.
Colonial newspapers were closely allied with other kinds of face-to-face sociability. The pages of colonial newspapers aired debates about the propriety of Freemasonry, theatres, and coffeehouses, with printers often advocating for their usefulness. As the detailed appendices demonstrate, those papers prove to be one of the few windows into colonial associative life, and readers are indebted to Eamon for cataloguing mentions of societies, coffeehouses, and plays performed in Halifax and Quebec City. Northern winters were no obstacle to flourishing social scenes, as one Quebec City correspondent reported in December 1790: “Tho’ surrounded with Ice and Snow, we enjoy health & are at least as social as in any other quarter of the Globe” (116).
Eamon charts a shift in colonial associative life as the eighteenth century progressed, from sociability for the sheer pleasure of it toward an increasing concern for the public good. “Let the social virtues shine / Doing good is sure divine,” declared a Masonic song printed in a Nova Scotia newspaper (135). (The Illuminati conspiracy theorists among our readership will be interested—perhaps apprehensive—to know that every eighteenth century governor and lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia was a Freemason! [133])
Mention “print” and “sociability” in the same sentence, and cultural theorist Jürgen Habermas’ concept of the “bourgeois public sphere” is sure to come to mind.  However, though it was incubated in similar coffee houses and likewise deliberated through a burgeoning print culture, the public sphere of British North America, Eamon argues, was less egalitarian than its bourgeois European or republican American counterparts. The colonial print community created “hybrid spaces of sociability and social control” (11), and its discourse “favoured consensus and balance over discord and radical change” (189). Imprinting Britain will find a place on reading lists on British North American sociability and the public sphere, alongside works by Jeffrey McNairn, Darren Ferry, and David Sutherland.

Do You Want To Study Loyalists?

If your answer to this question is “yes,” then you should read Christopher Minty’s latest post at Borealia.  It is a nice essay on using petition and oaths of allegiance to King George III for studying those who stayed loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution.  

Here is a taste:

Writing in Libertys Exiles, Maya Jasanoff argued that the Loyalist Claims Commission was a useful—perhaps the most useful—source available for scholars working on loyalists. They are indeed useful, offering thousands of biographical snippets of a wide range of individuals. Most scholars have used the claims, in some capacity.
But, alongside the claims, there are other sources out there that offer a different, less biased insight into loyalists during the American Revolution. In this post, after a brief discussion of “signing” prior to 1776 and with a particular focus on New York, I will discuss the historical uses of loyalist petitions and oaths of allegiance to King George III.
It doesn’t take long to sign a piece of paper. A flick of the pen. A transitory introduction of ink with paper, forever etching a combination of letters together with a contract, an idea, or a statement. Even though it didn’t take long, there could be long-term consequences for signing a piece of paper. Indeed, once a name hit the page, the cloud of anonymity was lifted. Political views could no longer be hidden from view.
Prior to and during the American Revolution, signing subscription lists or petitions was an important barometer of an individual’s or a group’s political persuasion(s). On multiple occasions, between 1765 and 1776, the difference between a “signer” and a “non-signer” were significant; it often marked the distinction between those who were “for” something and those who were “against” something.

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).

Keith Grant Reports From the 2014 Omohundro Conference in Halifax

It is summer conference-going season and The Way of Improvement Leads Home is on the beat. A few days ago Liz Covart reported from the New York State History Conference in Poughkeepsie.  Today we hear from Keith S. Grant, a PhD candidate in history at the University of New Brunswick, Canada who studies evangelicalism and print culture in the Atlantic World.  Keith reflects on last week’s 20th annual conference of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He can be reached at keith.grant[at]  –JF

Here is Keith’s report
Halifax, Nova Scotia, played host to the 20thAnnual OIEAHC conference, the theme of which was “the consequences of war.” The program was impressive, with a nice overlap of themes, allowing conversations to span sessions, and to spill into the hallways and onto Twitter (#OIANNUAL).
The keynote address by Jack Greene urged a reconsideration of the formative significance of peacetime for early America, and not only the convulsions of war. To make his case, he focused on the quarter century from the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) to the outbreak of the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739), and examined the non-martial explanations provided by Adam Smith (1723-1790) and David Ramsay (1749-1815), among others, for the expansion of colonial society in that period. Through his exposition of these writers, Greene suggested that peacetime reveals what an emphasis on wars obscures: America was transformed, not so much by metropolitan authority or military conquest, but by the adaptive agency of the settlers themselves. Focusing on conflict tends to shift attention to the strength of empire, and away from the profound transformations wrought by settlers adapting European societies to new conditions. The continent, he argued, was not won on battlefields, but on the frontiers of settlement.
However, such a narrative can—and did—slide into a kind of “white legend”—a more benign, British, and Protestant alternative to the Spanish “black legend” of American colonization. Variations on the “white legend” can be found in Smith, Ramsay, their nineteenth century successors, and in some of what now passes as “heritage.” But, Greene argued, such a narrative did not take into account the overwhelming costs paid by enslaved Africans and dispossessed indigenous peoples (and Acadians and Jamaican Maroons).
I’m not sure if the lecture provoked the conversation Greene intended. Most of those who came to the microphone during Q & A were senior scholars who were themselves taught or mentored by Greene. They questioned whether peacetime can so neatly be distinguished from the wars that led to new treaty arrangements. They observed that “peace” did not extend to the interior of Africa. They asked about the agency and contributions of African and Native Americans. Most strongly, they insisted that in the period between wars there was no peace, but systemic violence perpetrated through enslavement and dispossession; Greene’s qualifications to that effect did not sufficiently alter the “white legend.” Although it may be that a war story obscures settler (rather than metropolitan) agency, a narrative of peace can paper over the violence on which those settler achievements was predicated.
Of course I can’t say something about every paper or session, so here are a few themes that continue to percolate as I reflect on #OIANNUAL 2014.
There were several very good papers on aspects of “loyalism,” which collectively helped to tease apart the polarity of patriot/loyalist. Christopher Minty argued that loyalism in New York was not born de novo in the heat of Revolution, but instead emerged from long-standing partisanship. With the help of social network analysis, Minty showed how DeLanceyite social mobilization (including a range of print strategies) and “everyday sociability” (i.e. racking up huge tavern tabs) brought together “would-be loyalists” in the years before the Revolution. Liam Riordan offered two surprising pairings, both of which stretch our definition of “loyalism”—a term big enough to include William Martin Johnson (a Georgia doctor and captain with the New York Volunteers) and Thomas Peters (a former North Carolina slave and sergeant in the Black Pioneers, later a leader in the Sierra Leone colony). Riordan also suggested that both loyalists also shared much in common with ordinary Revolutionary soldiers, like Joseph Plumb Martin; no matter who was victorious, all experienced the disruptions of war and the difficulties of resettling in its aftermath. Christopher Sparshott invited us to reconceptualize Revolutionary New York as a refugee camp, and “loyalists” as those who, like all displaced persons, adopted strategies of survival. By examining little-used “memorials” (claims for compensation), Sparshott demonstrated that many New Yorkers framed their loyalism in terms of practical suffering in wartime conditions.

Humanitarianism, it turns out, had a long career before Enlightenment reformers and Romantic idealists made it their own. Erica Charters traced the long development of European conventions for the humane treatment of POWs, including military, legal, nationalistic, and religious motivations. By the time of the American War of Independence, public opinion was the court that adjudicated what constituted humane treatment of POWs. Wendy Churchill argued that professional self-fashioning, as much as idealism, drove eighteenth-century military medical practitioners to adopt the rhetoric of “humanity.”
To mention just one paper from the excellent panel on religion and antislavery, Sarah Crabtree proposed a solution to the puzzle of Quaker reticence in the abolition movement. She suggested that antislavery reformers were connected through Quaker networksand influenced by Quaker ideology. While reformers continued to benefit from the infrastructure of Quaker financing and connections, Quaker trans-Atlantic cosmopolitanism did not sit easily with an increasingly nationalistic conception of antislavery. In perhaps the most quotable moment of the conference, Crabtree observed that Quakers were comfortable as subjects, but not as citizens.
The host province, Nova Scotia, was certainly not neglected in the program. Alexandra Montgomery described the enthusiastic (if not completely successful) promotion of Nova Scotia settlement schemes by Philadelphians, including Benjamin Franklin. Afua Cooper showed that the history of enslavement in Nova Scotia complicates the narrative of Nova Scotia as a refuge for freed blacks or runaway slaves. And Keith Mercer offered a brilliant cultural history of the commemoration of the Shannon’s defeat of the Chesapeake during the War of 1812.
Several papers probed the question of black and indigenous agency in the face of colonization. Maria Bollettino (in a rich plenary session on the consequences of war and the black Atlantic) explored the significance of black combatants in mid-C18 Caribbean conflicts. Although Britain armed blacks to protect slavery, rather than to abolish it, Bollettino suggests that their contributions seeded imaginations for how blacks could later play a range of imperial roles. Thomas Peace argued that colonial day schools in the eighteenth century north east (as opposed to later boarding or residential schools) were an important part of local indigenous communities. Even though the schools were part of a larger colonizing program, skills in literacy made it possible for indigenous communities to resist colonizing pressures, especially through petitions about land. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, similarly, argued that Haudenosaunee women mitigated the effects of the early republic’s “civilization program” by appropriating those skills that were useful to them (e.g. spinning), while maintaining traditional ways.
Perhaps the best questionof the conference came from Lori Daggar, who wondered how themes related to indigenous peoples (and I think this applies to African Americans) can be more fully integrated into conference programs, so that these themes are not left to specialist panels. Returning to the first evening’s conversation, the question remains, how can the narratives of professional and popular history more seamlessly include black and indigenous agency, and account for both colonial achievement and violence?
Thanks to Justin Roberts (Dalhousie University), Elizabeth Mancke (University of New Brunswick), John Reid (Saint Mary’s University), and the OIEAHC team for great hospitality and for making a space for stimulating conversations.
Thanks, Keith!