Colonial Canada: Canadian history in the early modern era

The Syllabus

Prof. Daniel Samson (GLN 219) 

Contact Information: My email address is But I would suggest using the Messages tool in Sakai as a more certain, and no doubt faster way, to get hold of me. 

Beginning September 16th, I’ll be holding student hours on Wednesday afternoons from 1 to 3. If this time is inconvenient, make an appointment by messaging me in Sakai. Student hours are exactly what they say – hours reserved for students: you! For day-to-day concerns and specific questions about your forum participation or help with essays, your TAs should be your first contacts. But if helpful, you can contact me any time.
Remember: Make sure that you check your Sakai Messages regularly!!! 

Required components: 
Forum discussion             30 percent
Major paper                       25 per cent (due week of Nov 23rd - details below)
Short essay                        10 per cent (due 19 Oct)
Weekly Quizzes                10 per cent
Final exam                        25 per cent (due 14 Dec) 

The Course at a Glance:

Introduction (9 Sep to 15 Sept): Introduction

Module 1     (16 Sept to 22 Sept): Early New France and the Fur Trade -- Ch 1              
Module 2     (23 Sept to 29 Sept): French Canada, Acadia, and the Mi’kmaq -- Ch3  
Module 3     (30 Sept to 6 Oct): Slavery in Early Canada -- Ch 2
Module 4     (7 Oct to 20 Oct): War and Revolutions in the Americas -- Ch 4

Short assignment due end of the day on Monday, 19 October 

Oct 12-16     Thanksgiving and Fall Reading Week
Module 5     (21 Oct to 27 Oct): Making Treaties -- TBA                                          
Module 6     (28 Oct to Nov 3): Loyalism and Protestantism -- Ch 5
Module 7     (4 Nov to 10 Nov): Immigration and Society -- Ch 6 
Module 8     (11 Nov to 17 Nov): Liberalism and Social Change -- Ch 7                                
Module 9     (25 Nov to 2 Dec): Institutions and the Role of the State -- Ch 8          
Module 10   (25 Nov to 2 Dec): Exam Prep

Major Essay due between week of, November 23rd [see explanation below in "Major Essay" section]

The final exam will be released Dec 4th and is due before midnight Dec 14th

Monday, Nov 2nd, 2020 is the last date for withdrawal from the course without academic penalty. 


There are two textbooks for this course. The first must be purchased from the university bookstore. It forms the basis for all seminars and assignments. It is therefore VITAL to your success in the course. 

Penny Bryden, Colin Coates, Maureen Lux, Lynn Marks, Marcel Martel, and Daniel Samson, eds., Visions: The Canadian History Modules Project, volume 1, Pre-Confederation, Custom Edition, (Toronto, Nelson, 2018). 

Note this is a custom edition – do not buy the standard version (i.e. a version that would be available from Amazon or other online dealers) 

The second text is a free online Creative Commons textbook. It is also required and offers students important background and elaboration on major topics. You’re not asked to read all of it; recommended sections are noted week-to-week in the lesson plans in your webtext. 

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

Course Description: 

This course emphasises two things: (i) Learn the basic features of society, state and economy in Canada’s colonial era (i.e. what happened), and (ii) understand and write about how historians interpret elements of that basic story in different ways (i.e. what “what happened” means). 
Thus we’ll spend much of our time (i) reading about and discussing those basic stories, and (ii) reading, discussing, and writing about how different historians told those stories in different ways and thus with different meanings. 

When we read history, we’re not reading the past, we're reading words – stories – written by individual human beings who interpret those stories in their own way. Historians try their best to tell the story accurately. They look at evidence (which is always incomplete); they interpret that evidence; they figure out a story; they select the evidence that supports that story. Very simply, different historians will do that in different ways, and end up with different versions of the story. 

To be clear, that does not mean that “it’s all relative”, or “there’s always two sides of the story”, or other clichés. It also doesn’t mean that historians disagree on really basic issues (no one doubts World War Two happened, but there’s tons of debate on why it happened, on how certain battles were fought, or why some people collaborated with the Nazis, while others resisted, and so on). Similarly, in colonial Canada, no one doubts that Nova Scotia did not join the American revolution, but different historians have explained why they didn’t in different ways (we’ll look at this very question later in the term). 

This is called historiography. It’s a word that many history students dread, but you shouldn’t fear the idea. It’s basic to all that we do. And if you understand that most topics have a historiography – that different historians approach that topic differently – then you’ll be a better history student. And if you’re not a history student, it’s still useful in thinking about literature reviews (of what the academic literature on any given topic – be that in political science, or biology – says about that topic). All topics have debates/discussion, agreements and disagreements, about how to understand it. History is no different. 

In this course, then, The readings in Visions form the basis for all our seminar discussions, and the topic for both your short assignment, and the final major essay. In forum we’ll practice how to write/talk about these topics; in your assignments you’ll learn how to turn them into a formal academic discussion. 

Course Structure 

Each module begins on Wednesday at noon (our scheduled meeting time). We will NOT hold live sessions either in class or on video.

To be clear: there are no required live face-to-face or virtual meetings. Beginning in October we're going to try scheduling some optional virtual meetings, but this will be more akin to office hours than class-time. They will be helpful, but offer no additional grade-able content.

This course operates in two main locations: (1) the course Sakai page, and (2) a web-based course “book” (we’ll call it the webtext). It’s not a book, of course, but it’s meant to function like one. The course consists of an introduction plus eight weekly modules. Each module’s lesson plan will follow the same structure. It will consist of the following categories: 
• Introductory videos (available in the webtext) 
• Textbook readings (available online)
• Seminar readings (in Visions) 
• Questions (in the webtext) to consider for forum discussion (that you do in Sakai) 

Thus, most face-to-face courses have 1. assignments, 2. lectures, 3. a textbook, and 4. seminar readings. So does this course, but the labels and arrangement are slightly different. Thus it might be helpful to think of the course this way: 

      1.    Sakai is where you do your assignment (submit papers, participate in the forum) 
      2.    Webtext offers videos (short lectures, introductions to the forum readings) 
      3.    Textbook is the web-based BCOpenCommons text by John Belshaw.
      4.    The readings are in the reader: Visions 

Visions is in the bookstore: it is the only non-digital dimension of this course. Thus most “weeks” (i.e. in each module) you’ll go the Webtext watch some videos, do background readings in the Belshaw textbook, then do your readings from the Visions book for the forum (thinking, as you read, about the questions suggested), then discuss them in the forum. 

This is a reading and writing centred course. You’ll read a lot; and you’ll write a lot. It is designed to give you a background in Canadian history, to engage with different viewpoints on related topics, and to improve your reading and writing skills.

Written assignments: 

Short Written Assignment: Due before midnight on Monday, Oct 19th. Write a 500 word (approx. 2pp.) discussion of the secondary sources in ONE OF chapters 1, 2, 3 or 4 from the Visions reader. Looking only to the secondary sources, outline, discuss, and compare the viewpoints of the historians included on one chapter's topic. We’ll be doing just that in our forums, and this short assignment is more or less a practice version of the major assignment. Getting it now will be beneficial later. 

Major Essay: Due between Monday, November 23rd and midnight on Friday, November 27th.This essay asks you to write a 2000-word essay discussing the primary AND secondary documents in ONE of chapters 5,6, 7 or 8 from the Visions text. This is a substantially more developed version of your first assignment with proper Chicago-style references.. 

Why the due-date range? I'm trying to be flexible and offer you some scope. If you get it in early - by midnight on the 24th - I'll give you a 5 per cent bonus (+5 points on your grade out of 100).

At its simplest, the long assignment asks you to discuss the historiographical discussion of one topic in the Visions text, just as in the short assignment, but to also include the primary sources. Your essay should explain the historical viewpoints expressed in the secondary sources. What is the argument of each historian? Does the evidence support the argument? How do the different viewpoints of the historians relate to each other? Look at the primary documents: do you see evidence in these documents that help us understand the arguments? That allow us to better understand the positions of the historians? That support the position of the historians? That do NOT support the position of the historians?

You can make use of your lecture notes and/or the web-text, but do not do any outside research. 

Focus your discussion on analysing and comparing the authors and their viewpoints. Most of the weight will be on your ability to explain and to differentiate between the arguments. We will discuss this at more length in the forums, but for now think about writing an essay on the authors' interpretations, not on the subject of the readings. Your main question then (for example) would NOT be, "Why did New France fall?" Rather, it would be something like, "How have different historians interpreted the fall of New France?”  

All written assignments will be submitted through Sakai (under the Assignments tab) and will be processed through Turnitin plagiarism detection. 
If you have trouble uploading your file, or if you don’t receive a receipt, email a copy to the TA/instructor. If you’re using one of the major browsers – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. – and it’s up-to-date, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you do encounter difficulties, contact us or Brock IT services: 

A simple but common fix is Sakai is giving you grief: switch browsers. It’s surprising how many difficulties are fixed in this simple if unexplainable manner. I’m not Google fan, but I have to admit that Chrome seems to present the fewest problems for Sakai.
Learning Outcomes 

At the end of this course, students should be able to: Tests and Quizzes

Each week, starting Set 17th, quizzes test your comprehension of the background readings (Belshaw and the webtext materials, not the forum readings from Visions). Together they’re worth 10 points. So, while each one is only worth about a point, that can add up quickly and these points can make the difference between a B and C, or whatever. They'll open at noon on Thursday and close the end of the day Friday (36 hours).

You’ll have three attempts at each quiz. Thus, it would be pretty easy to game this system by figuring out the right answers. That would get you 10 points, but then you would go off to write your essays and exams knowing very little – so don’t do this! Watch the videos, do the readings – take notes (it is, after all, just like a lecture!). Then do the quizzes.  

All these tests/quizzes will employ objective questions and conducted online. There will be true/false, multiple choice, and so on. Some will be easy; some will be hard. Pay attention.

Forum Discussion Instructions 

These are general forum instructions. In each module, you’ll be given specific questions to guide discussion in that module. 

In Sakai you’re join a discussion group of 15 students. This will be your discussion group for the entire course. Each week, everyone is expected to contribute to the discussion. It’s worth 30 per cent of your grade. Write something! 

You read documents every week in preparation for the discussion group, so be aware of what you need to do to prepare, when you’re expected to comment, and plan your time accordingly. I’ll be sending you occasional prompts but most of this is on you.

Each module will open Wednesday noon, and close the following Wednesday noon. Be sure to post on time so that others have time to respond. If everyone is responding at the end of the available time, there’ll be little useful interaction. 

I’m putting a big emphasis on each of you talking/writing to each other, and roughly one third forum grade will based on your interactions in the forum with your classmates. Obviously if you’re the first person to post, you couldn’t have engaged with your anyone. But you can post more than once! You can post 3, 4, 5, 17 times! What’s the most you should be posting? That’s up to you and your judgement. In most cases, 2 or 3 times should be enough. But do not believe that you will be graded well simply because you posted many times. Quality still matters most.

I’m most interested in seeing class members engage with each other in meaningful dialogue. If you’re initiating a thread, try to establish positions or arguments based on evidence in the assigned sources, rather than simply recounting the story, or telling us your opinion. Try to set up a discussion, an issue. If you're later, try to engage with what other people are saying: How long should your posts be? Most posts should be in the range of 100 to 250 words. Sometimes, you may need to say more, sometimes less. But generally, whatever number of words you write, you should be (a) answering one (or more) of our questions, (b) using evidence from that week’s sources, and (c) engaging with your classmates. 


Forum discussions are the heart of this course. Your grades will reflect the regularity and most especially the quality of your weekly contributions. Post should strive to build conversations – that is, they should engage, and offer thought-provoking commentary and questions for deepening the discussions. New posts should engage with the reading material and/or posts from other participants, and should always bring out evidence from the readings; responses should engage with other participants, but again should always strive to bring new evidence to bear on the discussion. The point is to analyze our texts through discussion, and to build and develop the conversation to that end. 

You are required to post at least once each week. Some weeks have more activities than others, but they are all listed on the module page and in the Course Schedule so you will have plenty of time to prepare yourself for all activities. 

Hence, your discussion/participation grades will be determined on the basis of you creating engaging, thought-provoking commentary, responses and initiating new discussion threads that shows engagement with the topics. 

Weekly discussions will be assigned grades from 0 to 10: 

•    8-10 Thoughtful, timely & excellent contributions that stimulate discussion, engage effectively with other forum participants, and provide insightful comments with solid grounding in the sources. 
•    6-7 Effective contributions that invite comment, engage well with others, and demonstrate some knowledge of the sources. (These are clearly on the right path, but could still be improved.) 
•    1-5 Little or no effort given to posting, weak engagement, or contribution was divergent from the discussion and the readings. 
•    0-No contribution.

You have a week to get your posts in. I want to encourage early participation. Thus, everyone who posts at least two solid posts (using he criteria above), and gets one of those solid posts in before 9.a.m Saturday morning will get a bonus 10 per cent on their forum work that week.You’ll receive updates on your forum grade three times: twice during the term  (once in early October, the other time in early November – these will be “so far” grades). Then at the end of the course you’ll be given a final forum grade.

Academic Integrity: 

The principle of academic integrity, particularly of doing one’s own work, documenting properly (including use of quotation marks, appropriate paraphrasing and referencing/citation), collaborating appropriately, and avoiding misrepresentation, is a core principle in university study. Academic misconduct is a serious offence. Students should consult Section VII, “Academic Misconduct”, in the “Academic Regulations and University Polices” entry in the Undergraduate Calendar, available at to view a fuller description of prohibited actions, and the procedures and penalties. 

Plagiarism software: 

You will submit most of your assignments (forum reflections, course papers, and take-home exam) through, a phrase-matching program online. See the assignment details on Sakai for more information. If you have a principled reason for objecting to uploading your assignments to, please notify the instructors before the end of Week 4 to discuss alternative ways to submit your assignments. Alternatives will include some mechanism for you to demonstrate your adherence to the principles of academic integrity. 

Special accommodation:

The University is committed to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for all students and will adhere to the Human Rights principles that ensure respect for dignity, individualized accommodation, inclusion and full participation. The University provides a wide range of resources to assist students, as follows: The penalties for late submission of assigned coursework (e.g., papers, assignments, weekly reflections) are 5% per day, unless accommodations have been approved.

If you require academic consideration because of an incapacitating medical condition, please inform Prof. Samson as soon as possible, of your inability to complete your work.  Given our challenging times related to COVID-19, requests for extensions on assignments due to illness or caring for others with illness will be given case by case consideration for extensions. 

Academic Accommodation: 

As part of Brock University's commitment to a respectful work and learning environment, the University will make every reasonable effort to accommodate all members of the university community with disabilities. If you require academic accommodations related to a documented disability to participate in this course, you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities in the Student Development Centre (4th floor Schmon Tower, ex. 3240). You are also encouraged to discuss any accommodations with the instructor well in advance of due dates and scheduled assessments. 

Medical Exemption Policy: 

The University requires that a student be medically examined in Health Services, or by an off- campus physician prior to an absence due to medical reasons from an exam, lab, test, quiz, seminar, assignment, etc. The Medical Certificate can be found at: services/policies/exemption.