Colonial Canada: Canadian history in the early modern era


Course Introduction

This module starts us thinking about secondary sources, and their viewpoints.

In history, a secondary source is one written by a historian - that is, she wasn't there, didn't experience the event (or whatever), but has read primary sources (by people who were there!) and the historian writes the story based on that evidence.

In this course, we won't be emphasizing primary documents. We'll be looking at what historians have already said about some important topics. In this module, we'll start slowly, with one secondary source. But as we move further, we'll look at several secondary sources on related topics so that we can get a good overview of the different questions being asked, the sources, being used, the major viewpoints that exist on this topic.

This week, we'll dive into our forum discussions by discussing a single brief excerpt and  introducing ourselves to our forum mates.

Learning outcomes 

- to familiarize ourselves with our forum discussion groups 

- to introduce yourselves to your fellow forum participants (tell everyone a bit about yourselves)

- to practice identifying the argument in a secondary source

- to practice discussing the evidence to support that argument

- to begin discussing/debating these issues in your forum

Introductory video


In the forum, we'll be discussing:

Neal Salisbury, "The Indians' Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans", The William & Mary Quarterly Third Series, 53, no. 3 (July 1996), 435-58 [excerpt].

Over the course of the term, we'll refer to the good critical practices John Belshaw outlines here. We won't discuss this section this week, but we will several times as we proceed.

John Douglas Belshaw, Canadian History: Pre-Confederation (Vancouver, BC Campus OpenEd, 2016). Read section 2.5.

Some questions to consider:

History is always changing. While the very basics of a story seldom change, the meaning of the story can change dramatically based on the questions the historian asks, the evidence they look at, how they interpret that evidence, whether they agree with how other historians have interpreted that evidence. 

This means that there are different versions of most histories. It does not mean that people can simply have an opinion – they still need evidence to support the position – but it does mean that historians debate which versions are better, who has the best evidence, how best to understand the story.

That’s what we’ll begin to practice in this introductory module.  In the next two days we’ll look at a single article and begin practicing identifying the argument, discussing the evidence, and moving toward comparing them with other writers. At the end of the course you should be able to write an effective historiographical discussion about one topic in colonial Canadian history. And if you can do that, you can do that for any topic.

The questions:

In his opening paragraph, Salisbury describes a new approach to studying the Indigenous peoples of North America. What does that mean about his perspective? How do you think his view might be different than in the past? What does this tell us about the writing of history?

How might Salisbury's new perspective change our understanding of colonial history?

Does Salisbury have a question? It needn't be direct; it can be an implied question: what do you think guides his thinking? His research?

What is Salisbury's main argument? His main point? What does he want to take away from this article? Is he simply telling us interesting stories about Indigenous peoples? If not, what else can we see?

Does the evidence support his argument? Comment on the type of evidence Salisbury relies on? What does that tell us?

In your forum discussion, try to discuss the issue. That is, if you think someone has, for example, identified the main argument, then don't just agree, build on that point - talk about evidence, talk about other points he may also be making. If you disagree, don't simply say so, show us why - show us evidence that makes you think he means something different.


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