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Topics in Canadian History: Exploring Early North American Communities

A print featuring the lake with large ships facing toward a shore with small settlements at sunset titled "A view of the city of Quebec the capital of Canada" painted by Hervey Smyth in 1763
Smyth, Hervey. "A view of the city of Quebec, the capital of Canada." 1763, National Library and Archives of Quebec, Quebec.

This course aims to examine and question ideas and assumptions about the diverse and complex communities that existed and developed within North America between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. This course will examine the diverse and complex Indigenous practices and communities that existed prior to European settlement, the impact that the arrival of Europeans had on these practices and communities, and the later development of more sustained European settlements, in chronological order. Although the arrival of Europeans to North America provoked many changes, both directly and indirectly, our discussions will examine how the continent remained an Indigenous space, and rather than narratives about European superiority and Indigenous dispossession, Europeans relied on their Indigenous allies to protect and support their minimally populated and geographically sparse settlements. Rather, by examining scholarly work that addresses and analyzes on the ground realities, this course aims to enrich our understanding of Indigenous peoples and communities, Indigenous-European interaction, colonial settlement, and imperial projects. To achieve this, the course readings will illustrate the contingent and fluid nature of European settlement in North America, showcasing the continuation of Indigenous spaces, the disconnect between imperial ideals and colonial realities, and they will highlight alternative visions of North American history. Additionally, each week’s discussion will examine larger ideas about race, gender, and class, and will discuss if or how each concept shaped interactions and experiences and contributed to the social, cultural, political, and ethnic complexities that developed within this continental space. Throughout the year, we will examine ideas of change and continuity, cross-cultural adaption, community formation, questions of identity and belonging, moments of conflict and revolution, and perceptions of ‘the family.’ By examining and discussing how scholars have addressed these larger ideas, across geographic, cultural, and colonial, and imperial boundaries, this course will provoke critical analysis and perhaps some re-examination of what we know about North American settlement, and it will encourage reflections on the ways that we think about Canadian and North American history. 

The goal of this seminar course is to provoke and facilitate fruitful and in-depth discussions about the weekly readings and about the larger themes that connect each weekly seminar discussion. Class attendance and participation will count toward your final mark. The rest of the course evaluation will consist of two short reflection papers and one longer final paper.

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6


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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.