My co-authored paper at the World Congress of Environmental History

30 06 2014

Kirsten Greer will be presenting our co-authored paper at the World Congress of Environmental History on 10 July 2014  I’ve pasted some information about our panel, followed by our abstract, below.







10.07.2014 09:00-10:30 CO-04 (CFPG)
Insular Economies, Insular Ecologies: Putting Islands in Context in Environmental History
Organizer: Rebecca Woods (Columbia University, New York, United States)

Chair: Libby Robin (Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)


Libby Robin (Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
A185 Sugar Island of the North: Redpath Sugar and the Connected Environmental Histories of Montreal and the West Indies in the 19th Century Abstract
Kirsten Greer (Nipissing University, Nipissing, Canada)
A186 From Degenerates to Regeneration: Island Laboratories in Mexico Abstract
Emily Wanderer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States)
A187 A Model for Ecology? Soay Sheep, St Kilda, and Ecosystem Ecology in the Twentieth Century Abstract Rebecca Woods (Columbia University, New York, United States)
Libby Robin (Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)



The connection between metropolises such as London and Liverpool in the British Isles and resource-producing islands in the tropics is a major theme in the history of the British Empire. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a city in the British colony of Canada developed similar relationships with the tropics. The island of Montreal experienced rapid industrialization and became Canada’s largest city. Previously, Montreal had been a transit point for Canadian raw materials en route to consumers in Britain. Canada’s industrialization and rapidly evolving relationship with the West Indies allowed Montreal to join the rank of the Empire’s resource-importing cities. As research by Innis and other scholars has shown, Canadian nation-building during this time period relied on the creation of hinterlands for natural resource exploitation, linking intricately the environmental histories of metropolis and frontier, such as Montreal and the rural and northern peripheries that supplied it with timber, wheat, and minerals. Missing from this literature, however, is that Canada’s greatest metropolis created a hinterland that was outside of Canada, in the West Indies. This paper investigates the connected environmental histories of the island of Montreal with the sugar islands of the Caribbean by focusing on the Redpath Sugar Refinery and its reliance on raw sugar from the West Indies. It pays particular attention to the challenges of researching the environmental histories of sugar islands, especially when piecing together fragments of various archives, using private company records, and rewriting Canadian environmental history to include a transnational dimension that reinterprets Canada’s role in exploiting slave labour in the Spanish West Indies and nominally free labour in the British West Indies during a time of nation-building and expansion. As this paper demonstrates, the trade in sugar linked the metropolis of Montreal to the commodity frontier of the West Indies, which produced drastically different outcomes in both regions. From soil erosion to water pollution, the production of sugar also involved significant profits made from slave and cheap labour, which were therefore reinvested into urban civic improvement projects, all of which helped to position Montreal as an intellectual and scientific centre in North America.



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