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Decentring the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multidisciplinary Perspective, 1500-1700. .

Germaine Warkentin and Carolyn Podruchny, eds. Decentring the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multidisciplinary Perspective, 1500-1700. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2001. xii + 388 Pp. $60. index. illus. bibl. ISBN: 0-8020-4327-5.

I remember vividly sitting as a child in the theater at the reconstructed seventeenth-century Jesuit mission, Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons (in what is now Midland, Ontario), watching the celebratory film about Jerome Lalemant, John de Brebeuf, and their zealous band of missionaries. The film ended with the fiery destruction of the original mission, and then the wall of the theater that served as the film's screen rose, inviting the audience to walk our into the reconstructed grounds and buildings, where actors dressed as Jesuits, lay brothers, and Hurons wandered about. The problematic attitudes toward and the construction of the history of contact between Europeans and native peoples embodied in this moment -- a moment which promised the magical recovery of a fabulous past -- ate among the topics of Germaine Warkentin and Carolyn Podruchny's powerful new collection of essays on the colonial project in early modern Canada.

Divided into five parts, this collection admirably fulfills its ambitious goal, that is, in the context of developments in postcolonial studies to "look not solely into the impact on Canada of people shaped by the European Renaissance and Early Modern periods, but to the impact of Canada on them" and as far as it is able "to consider... the ways in which the native peoples of early Canada responded to the Renaissance and Early Modern Europeans who came to their shores" (Warkentin and Podruchny, 7). The editors have shaped a volume which, no matter how divergent its essays' various approaches, addresses consistently, illuminatingly, and often with startling results "the interaction between these two worlds and ... the ways we attempt to interpret it" (Warkentin and Podruchny, 4). Centering its attention squarely on Canada (with some informative comparisons to Florida, Brazil, and Virginia), the volume also contributes significantly to "decentring" our thinking about colonization in the New World, since the no rthern texts, materials, and issues on which it focuses challenge the dominant academic discourse created through the numerous analyses of the Spanish colonization of the Americas (Warkentin and Podruchny, 6).

Bringing into conversation scholars from native studies, anthropology, history, sociology, natural science, and archaeology, the volume becomes a wide-ranging and cross-fertilizing analysis of some of the most persistent issues facing studies of the colonial project in the New World, particularly to what extent we can construct "a multicultural history in tune with both [indigenous] and Euro-Canadian perceptions of history" (Morantz, 64). Morantz's conclusion that such a history is "impossible" paired with Deborah Doxtator's enlightening exploration of the differences between native and European concepts of time, history, and change suggest the serious methodological and philosophical issues productively addressed in this anthology. For example, Selma Huxley Barkham evokes the mental world of Basque mariners and merchants that created a mutually-respectful relationship between the Basques and the Innu. Anne Lake Prescott's and Mary C. Fuller's paired essays examine how representations of Newfoundland challen ge the notion that gendered metaphors of possession were the only way in which the English imagined their relationship to their colonies. Peter A. Goddard analyzes the Jesuits' changing representations of Canada, how these changes were influenced by the cultural and intellectual climate in France, and how the Jesuits' experience of Canada influenced their own conceptions of themselves and their order. The five important papers in the volume's final section, "Decentring at Work," examine "in close detail ... interactions between the New World, as it was represented by 'the north part of America,' and the evolving experience of those who explored or settled here" (Warkentin and Podruchny, 14). These essays and others in the volume showcase what can be achieved when scholars address the interrelationship between Europeans and native peoples. In this last section, Lynn Berry offers a particularly provocative assessment of the tone and content of Pierre Boucher's 1664 natural history of Canada as bearing witness t o the personal "hybridization" of this twenty-seven-year resident of Canada, and the discursive "hybridization" of his representation of Canada's flora and fauna (224, 227).

Warkentin and Podruchny's rich and wonderfully-focused volume, however, is organized so that the reader is constantly reminded of that absent and perhaps unrecoverable "history of the relationships between Amerindians among themselves" (Delage and Warren, 314), endowing this collection finally with an intellectual honesty and openness to engagement which make it a timely and exciting intervention in postcolonial studies.
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Author:Loughlin, Marie H.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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