- Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763 by Jeffers Lennox
As the inaugural volume in the University of Toronto Press's Studies in Atlantic Canada History, Jeffers Lennox's Homelands and Empires sets the bar extremely high for subsequent offerings in the series. In six extensively researched and well-written chapters, the book elucidates a process of competition and negotiation by which the Mi'kmaq, Wulstukwiuk, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, French, and British sought to assert territorial sovereignty in northeastern North America over the first half of the eighteenth century – a process that culminated during the Seven Years' War when Nova Scotia, long a British "imperial fiction," was mapped definitively over French Acadia and began acquiring a geographic existence robust enough to threaten the Indigenous homelands of Mi'kma'ki, Wulstukwik, and the Dawnland. In charting and plumbing this process, Homelands and Empires highlights broader complexities in the history of European expansion and Indigenous resistance and opens promising avenues for future research.
The book is particularly strong in its treatment of the production, consumption, and influence of French and British maps of Acadia and Nova Scotia. Beyond its survey of early cartography of the region – amply complemented by the inclusion of forty-one historical maps – the book presents a riveting analysis of the evolving role of maps in Franco-British diplomatic negotiations and in the shaping of public discourses of empire. It reveals ways in which a range of French and British actors – from officials in Versailles and London to readers of popular magazines – engaged with maps and used them to [End Page 107] support their imperial vision or to contest that of their competitors. Yet, as Homelands and Empires demonstrates so compellingly, maps of Acadia and Nova Scotia were mere projections of French and British territorial aspirations; they belied the presence and strength of the Indigenous peoples who effectively controlled the region beyond a handful of European pales. Indigenous peoples' intimate knowledge of their homelands, and their determination to defend them, posed a lasting challenge to European expansion and resulted in overlapping and competing geographic identities.
While striving for equal treatment of Indigenous and European actors, the book is confronted with the all-too-familiar methodological challenge of examining Indigenous histories through European sources. It seeks to reconstitute Indigenous perspectives and motives from land deeds, treaty records, correspondence between colonial and metropolitan officials, and settler-made transcriptions of Indigenous political and diplomatic statements, but rarely does it acknowledge – let alone, grapple with – the limitations of these sources or relate them to Indigenous oral, material, and toponymic records. Some sections are consequently unbalanced and under-developed, especially those that position Catholic missions as shared spaces where Mi'kmaq and French interacted peacefully and nurtured a common religious bond. These sections risk reifying missionary and colonial understandings and, therefore, call out for deeper, more sustained investigation.
Homelands and Empires is nevertheless a major contribution to historical scholarship on northeastern North America, yielding rich insights into ways that Indigenous peoples and Europeans envisioned the region and competed for space within it. Future research could profitably pursue its line of inquiry beyond 1763 by examining the continuing influence of Mi'kma'ki, Wulstukwik, and the Dawnland on British and American territorial aspirations in the Northeast. More broadly, the book enhances and complicates our understanding of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world by exploring tension between projects of territorial control (that is, European pursuit of empire and Indigenous protection of homelands) and the local, on-the-ground realities that shaped interaction between Indigenous peoples and European settlers.
Curator, British North America, Canadian Museum of History