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Historical geographies of colonialism: introduction.

Positioned as it is at the intersection between two disciplines, historical geography is a field whose boundaries have expanded and been reshaped over the years. If meticulous reconstruction of past geographies has long been a unifying approach, the question of 'what' geographies should or can be recovered--and through what means--continues to challenge the practices historical geographers adopt as their own. Such a question is even more central for researchers interested in geographies of the colonial past, especially as they relate to indigenous people. Archival traces of the marginalized are rare, yet the production of Canada's archive as a partial repertory is part and parcel of the construction of Canada itself as a nation. To recover a fuller picture, historical geographers must rethink their methods. In doing so, they contribute to enriching and revivifying the field of historical geography.

This special issue aims to present some of the work that is currently being done in this area. It brings together new work by emerging and established historical geographers in Canada as well as a commentary by Serge Courville, recently retired from Laval University. By presenting the breadth of scholarship in the area, we hope to encourage further dialogue and research around North America's colonial geographies. Given the strength of indigenous people's activism for the recognition of their contribution to Canada's history, we think this is a particularly opportune time for historical geographers to reflect on the part they play in this ongoing project.

The papers included here were presented first at the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) annual meeting in London, Ontario in June 2005 as part of a double-session and round table discussion entitled 'Historical Geography: Emerging Trends and Continuities'. (1) One significant result of that lively meeting was the creation of the Historical Geography Study Group, currently chaired by Andrew Baldwin of Brock University. Another was the recognition of a strong colonial theme running through several of the papers that focused much of the ensuing debate and discussion. As sounding points of this continuing conversation, the authors of the following articles follow important, (and unsettling) lines of research. In her study of British Columbian residential schools, Sarah de Leeuw examines the intimate material geographies and 'placed' nature of colonialism. Jason Grek Martin assesses the ethnographic vision and colonial significance of George Dawson's survey of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Focusing on the women of Eeyou Istchee, Caroline Desbiens opens key lines of research into historical geographies of gender and indigeneity.

Serge Courville acted as one of the discussants for the CAG Historical Geography sessions and we are pleased to reproduce some of his remarks here. He underlines the extent to which the 'forgotten people' of history are now at the centre of emerging research in historical geography. This shift, he argues, gives us both a new and rich understanding of the diversity of actions, logics and networks that organize space as well as a new scale for this understanding because much of this research seeks to understand the intimate connections individuals and groups develop with their environments. It reminds historical geographers that the large-scale organization of places and landscapes is rooted in much smaller scales of daily practices. This point, we agree, is hardly a new realization for historical geographers: indeed it is a facet of the inter-generational and interdisciplinary concerns, which link us to our past and create new forums in the present.

(1) The first session brought together Laura Cameron, Matthew Evenden, Jason Grek Martin and Matthew Hatvany, with Brian Osborne acting as a discussant. Session two included presentations by Caroline Desbiens, Anne Godlewska, Sarah De Leeuw and Etienne Rivard. Serge Courville acted as discussant for this second session and his comments are reproduced in this issue. Presenters for the round table discussion were Laura Cameron, Caroline Desbiens, Peter Goheen, William Jenkins and Arn Keeling.


Department of Geography, Queen's University, Mackintosh-Corry Hall, Room D201,

Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6 (e-mail:


Department of Geography, Universite Laval, Pavillon Charles-De Koninck, Room

5268, Quebec, Canada G1K 7P4 (e-mail:
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Author:Cameron, Laura; Desbiens, Caroline
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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