S. Karly Kehoe and Michael E. Vance (eds.), Reappraisals of British Colonisation in Atlantic Canada, 1700-1930. University of Edinburgh Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781474459037, $100.00. Available also in paperback ($24.95, forthcoming) and ebook (epub, 24.95; and pdf, $100.00). Ten chapters, 208 pages.
By Julia C. Stryker
Reappraisals of British Colonisation in Atlantic Canada, 1700-1930 delivers on its promise to escape from the reflective glace back from Confederation haunting many studies of British colonization in Atlantic Canada. S. Karly Kehoe and Michael E. Vance assembled a book which demonstrates the benefits a conceptually cohesive edited volume can bring to both nuanced subjects and challenges to extant narratives. Attention to legacy and memory contribute enormously to the depth of the analysis. Focusing on Atlantic Canada broadens the volume’s potential reach, as the colonial project in that area has “unique antiquity” and has fostered a variety of imperial approaches and settler communities. The effects of settler colonialism in shaping local identities in the region are distinct and ongoing (p. 11).
This book partakes in a broader trend for confronting the ongoing struggles and historical realities of settler colonialism in Canada and elsewhere, driven by longstanding efforts by Indigenous activists and scholars.1 As part of the series, Histories of the Scottish Atlantic, many—though notably, not all—of the essays focus on the Scottish experience of colonization in Atlantic Canada, but this places the volume at a unique and illuminating intersection of identity, colonization, and systems of oppression. It can be difficult to access and express how subaltern groups interact in complex structures of power and privilege in settler colonial societies; these essays build on each other, revealing how settler groups reactively reshaped their own identities, often while remaining entrenched in old regimes of power—perpetuating old systems of oppression they sought to escape in new ways.
Despite being an academic text, the book benefits from accessibly-written essays nested in a shared context that allows each to inform and expand on the others. Many of essays contribute to particular fields, but the three major contributions are to studies of empire, colonialism, and religion. Kehoe and Vance’s Introduction provides the sort of expansive overview of recent and relevant scholarship which makes an edited volume invaluable to students. This adds meaningfully to John G. Reid’s overview of the context—both scholarly and historical—for the volume: an exemplar for other thematically-driven edited volumes.
The first section, Dispossession and Settlement, reassesses old themes in new and more critical ways. Alexandra L. Montgomery discusses ideologies of empire as reflected in debates over settlement in Nova Scotia in the era of the American Revolution. She balances two large historiographies, demonstrating Nova Scotia’s centrality as a “laboratory of empire” (p. 26). Ruma Chopra’s examination of the double migrations of Black Loyalists and Maroons uses that historiographically neglected perspective to unravel the “enduring logic of an expansionist empire” through the interplay of humanitarianism, the civilizing mission, and the manipulation of assumptions regarding race and environment (p. 41). Annie Tindley dissects “the elite definitions of ‘universal truths’ regarding property and contract,” disrupting simple assumptions about elites’ adoption of ideologies of rule, and furthering concepts of fluidity and interdependence between what were once termed imperial ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ (p. 60).
The most cohesive section, Religion and Identity, hews closest to the series’ theme, but demonstrates that analysis of the ‘Scottish Atlantic’ can usefully multiply, rather than elide, the complexities of imperial history. Kehoe’s work on Catholic Highland Scots reveals the layers and interplays of power at work in settler societies. Joseph Hardwick leverages print culture to challenge historians’ tendency to “paint too bleak a picture of Anglican fortunes in the Atlantic Canadian Region,” arguing for a “more popular, adaptable rooted” interpretation of the Anglican Church (p. 93). Holly Ritchie analyses the ultimate failure of the Thomas McCulloch’s campaign to secure permanent funding for the Pictou Academy, exposing how the religious and political intertwined, specifically because of dissenting traditions in Scottish society.
The final section, Reappraising Memory, expands the reach of the earlier essays’ themes in interesting and necessary ways. Willeen G. Keough draws apart class, nationalism, and religion to complicate narratives of pre-existing tensions between Irish and English Protestant settlers, arguing for “greater complexity in the ways that Irish Newfoundlanders positioned themselves in the New World” (p. 149). Kurt Korneski, weaving together a wide array of scholarship, brings to fruition the promise of the diversification of interests in historical study by “analyzing how formal politics and high diplomacy and the history of social life are intertwined and mutually structuring” (p. 155). Ending on the essay by Michael E. Vance caps the reassessment of these legacies by bringing the whole of the book back to an Indigenous population, the Mi’kmaq. Vance details both the dependency and dismissal of the Mi’kmaq by settlers, specifically through the erasure of not just their contribution, but their very presence, in the historical work of George G. Patterson. In doing so, Vance highlights ongoing resistance to this erasure, ultimately aligning the maintenance of and fight for legacy with and against its reevaluation.
For maritime historians, this book’s value lies in the embeddedness of maritime life in the history of Atlantic Canada. The essays of Korneski, Montgomery, and Chopra speak to maritime themes most strongly, through issues of fisheries treaties and trade, ideologies of empire, and mobility, but studies of maritime-oriented shore societies add much to maritime history.
This book begins with a then-current anecdote about the removal of a statue of Edward Cornwallis from Cornwallis Park in Halifax in 2018, and this review is written in the wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential school in British Columbia in 2021, and more than 600 more at the campus of Marieval Indian Residential school which operated in Saskatchewan until 1997. The schools are one part of the legacy of settler colonialism—specific instances of an overarching system of erasure, dispossession, death, and, for Indigenous populations, resilience and resistance. As these essays demonstrate, Atlantic Canada was part of the settler colonial project, from the original framing of the region as a ripe, empty, economic-maritime frontier to the unnamed Indigenous people in 20th-century photographs. A reevaluation of this legacy is timely, illuminating, and necessary.
Julia (she/her) is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin, and received her MA at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her current research uses shipping contracts, law, and literature, to investigate women’s work at sea in the British Empire, particularly in the nineteenth-century. She also pursues digital historical and digital humanities methods, including using Python to map the voyages of women working at sea. She is a member of the COST Action Women on the Move, and an editorial board member for Anthem Studies in British History.