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Joe Borsato


Joe Borsato is a fourth year PhD candidate in the Department of History at Queen’s University and the Robert L. Middlekauff Fellow at the Huntington Library (2023-2024). He is also a Sansom Ideas Foundation scholar in 2023-2024. With previous work experience in First Nation communities, sustainability non-profits, and the heritage sector, Joe now researches the histories of Indigenous peoples, settler-Indigenous relations, Indigenous land rights, dispossession, property, and the moral philosophy of early modern colonization. His broader interests include the histories of Indigenous law, Roman law, international law, political ecology, Indigenous relations with New France, early modern empires, state-formation in Tudor-Stuart England & Ireland, humanism, and the political thought of corporations. He is fortunate to work with Dr. Scott Berthelette and Dr. Jeffrey Collins.

Joe’s SSHRC-supported doctoral project investigates the English justifications for the occupation of Indigenous lands and waterways in the Atlantic world, including Wabanakik (Acadia), K’taqamkuk (Newfoundland), Wînipâkw (the Hudson Bay watershed), Tsenacommacah (Virginia), Iouanaloa (Saint Lucia), Güiri noko (Guiana), and Mhumhain (Munster) in the early seventeenth century. The project also examines the early Wabanaki, Beothuk, Cree, Powhatan, Arawak, and Irish expressions of territorial possession against colonization. The project thereby combines the methods of Indigenous history and intellectual history to contextualize the mutual foundations of Indigenous legal claims and international law. Given the lack of research on the history of early modern Indigenous assertions of possession and the Government of Canada’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2021, the historical relationship between Indigenous land rights and international law is one of considerable pertinence. Through the exposition of Indigenous assertions of territorial possessions, this research seeks to foster the conditions for Indigenous resurgence and sovereignty. 

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively." - Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

Book Reviews

Winchcombe, Rachel. Encountering Early America. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021. In Journal of British Studies 62:2 (2023).

Pluymers, Keith. No Wood, No Kingdom: Political Ecology in the English Atlantic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021. In Ethnohistory 70:2 (2023).

Conference Papers

"'To Rule by Customes': Powhatan Territorial Possessions and the Virginia Company, 1606-1624." American Society of Ethnohistory. Tallahassee, Florida, USA, November 2023.

"'If We Plant by Composition': Anglo-Arawak Relations and Roman Law in Guianan Colonization, 1609-1630." Northeast Conference on British Studies. Halifax, Nova Scotia. October 2023.

“‘In Matter of State’: Law, Governance, Occupation, and the Virginia Company in Tsenacommacah, 1609-1622.” North American Conference on British Studies. Chicago, Illinois, USA, 13 November 2022.

“In Solo Puro et in Area Pura: Law, Empire, and Dispossession in Early Jacobean Ireland and Virginia, 1603-1622.” Northeast Conference on British Studies. Online. 22 October 2021. 


"'They came vnto him by Inheritance': Occupation, Property, and Anglo-Indigenous Land Claims in Seventeenth Century North America." Guest Lecture in HIST 403 "The Geography, History, and Ecology of Anishinaabewaki: Anishinaabeg in the Great Lakes Basin, 1000ce-1867" (Professor Scott Berthelette). Queen's University, Kingston, ON, 16 May 2023

"'I am Also King, and this My Land': Foundations of Indigenous Land Rights in Early English Colonization, 1576 - 1624." Guest Lecture for the Wilp Wilxo'oskwhl Nisga'a Institute (Professor Maureen Atkinson). Online. 26 January 2023.

"'Qui s'habituerent audit païs': Corporate-Indigenous Relations and the Company of One Hundred Associates, 1627-1663." Guest Lecture in HIST 217 "Indigenous Peoples and New France" (Professor Scott Berthelette). Queen's University, Kingston, ON, 26 October 2022.

“The Legacy of Jamestown: Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005) and English colonization in Tsenacommacah, 1606 – 1622.” Guest lecture in HIST 245 “Indigenous History in Film” (Professor Scott Berthelette). Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. 14 February 2022.

“How to Create Small Museum Education Programming.” Presented in collaboration with Mary Forbes. British Columbia Museums Association (BCMA). Prince George, BC, 1 October 2019.

“The Myth of the Frontier in Rural Museums: Strategies for Promoting Heritage and Historical Consciousness.” British Columbia Museums Association (BCMA). Kelowna, BC, 23 October 2018.

Curated Exhibits

“Contextualizing St. Joseph’s Mission.” A community-driven museum exhibition prepared and
presented in partnership with the Orange Shirt Society at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin,
Williams Lake, BC. Opened July 1, 2019.

“Cartography in the Cariboo.” A museum exhibition prepared and presented at the Museum of
the Cariboo Chilcotin, Williams Lake, BC. Opened May 20, 2019.

“The Chilcotin War of 1864.” A community-driven museum exhibition prepared and presented at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, Williams Lake, BC. Opened June 1, 2018.

In the News

Department of History, Queen's University

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




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