New Book on the HBC

14 05 2010

The records of the Hudson’s Bay Company formed the basis of a new book by Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis. I haven’t read the book yet, but it looks very promising.


“Commerce by a Frozen Sea is a cross-cultural study of a century of contact between North American native peoples and Europeans. During the eighteenth century, the natives of the Hudson Bay lowlands and their European trading partners were brought together by an increasingly popular trade in furs, destined for the hat and fur markets of Europe. Native Americans were the sole trappers of furs, which they traded to English and French merchants. The trade gave Native Americans access to new European technologies that were integrated into Indian lifeways. What emerges from this detailed exploration is a story of two equal partners involved in a mutually beneficial trade.

Drawing on more than seventy years of trade records from the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company, economic historians Ann M. Carlos and Frank D. Lewis critique and confront many of the myths commonly held about the nature and impact of commercial trade. Extensively documented are the ways in which natives transformed the trading environment and determined the range of goods offered to them. Natives were effective bargainers who demanded practical items such as firearms, kettles, and blankets as well as luxuries like cloth, jewelry, and tobacco—goods similar to those purchased by Europeans. Surprisingly little alcohol was traded. Indeed, Commerce by a Frozen Sea shows that natives were industrious people who achieved a standard of living above that of most workers in Europe. Although they later fell behind, the eighteenth century was, for Native Americans, a golden age.”

Ann M. Carlos
is Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and University College, Dublin. She is originally from Canada and did her PhD at Western. Frank D. Lewis is Professor of Economics at Queen’s University, Ontario.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book.

To order, go here.

My Teaching This Week

12 11 2009

In my first-year course, the focus was on the 1840s and 1850s. On Monday, I spoke about the achievement of Responsible Government. I showed part of this clip:

On Wednesday, I talked about the advent of the railway in British North America. I stressed the revolutionary impact of the technology on society, the economy, and, above all, politics.I showed the following clip at the end of my lecture:

In my honours seminar on British North America in the period of Confederation, we focused on the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. We discussed the following readings: Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: a History of British Columbia (Toronto, Ont. : University of Toronto Press, 1991), 52-98; Chris Clarkson, “Property law and family regulation in Pacific British North America, 1862-1873” Histoire Sociale / Social History 30 (1997): 386-416. Charles C. Irby, “The Black Settlers on Saltspring Island in the Nineteenth Century” Phylon 35  (1974): 368-374

One student gave an excellent presentation on the life of Sir James Douglas. I am including a video about Douglas here:

I’m also including this video about Black settlers in British Columbia.

I also met my graduate student to discuss two readings related to her research project. Edward S. Roger, “Northern Algonquians and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1821-1890” in Aboriginal Ontario : Historical Perspectives on the First Nations edited by Edward S. Rogers and Donald B. Smith (Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1994), 307-344; J.R. Millers, Skyscrapers Hide The Heavens (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1989).

My Teaching This Week

30 09 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

This week, I gave two lectures to students my first-year survey course on pre-Confederation history. Monday’s lecture was on the social and economic institutions of New France. Wednesday’s lecture was on the Seven Years’ War and the Conquest of New France by the British. Next week, I shall be speaking about the American Revolution and its impact on present-day Canada.

In my fourth-year seminar on mid-19th century British North America, our focus this week was on Newfoundland in the 1840s and 1850s. The readings for the seminar included Getrude E. Gunn, The Political History of Newfoundland, 1832-1864 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), (selected pages); Sean T. Cadigan “The Moral Economy of the Commons: Ecology and Equity in the Newfoundland Cod Fishery, 1815-1855,” Labour/Le Travail 43 (1999): 9-42; and the entry for Philip Francis Little in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Little was the first Premier of Newfoundland after Responsible Government came in).

These readings generated a lively discussion of Newfoundland’s place in the North Atlantic world,  the achievement of Responsible Government in Newfoundland and environmental history. We also had a very good discussion of the concept of the tragedy of the commons and how it can be applied to the study of history. I also distributed copies of a primary source (a 1854 letter from London to Newfoundland’s Governor) in the seminar and asked students to analyze and discuss it. Next week, the seminar shall be discussing economic change in the Province of Canada in the 1840s and 1850s.

I don’t know if I will assign the article by Cadigan again. It’s a very good article, but maybe not appropriate for students lacking the right background knowledge.

Graduate Teaching:

I also met with one of our graduate students to discuss her project on the fur trade. (Her master’s project involves looking at the records of a particular HBC trading post in northern Ontario). We discussed two secondary sources related to her research project, Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: an Introduction to Canadian Economic History (3rd edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960). We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the changing nature of economic history, the influence of Innis, historians’ depictions of Natives, and the impact of cultural differences on culture. At our next meeting, we shall discuss the more modern secondary literature on the fur trade. I’m enjoying working this very dedicated and intelligent student.

HBC Records as a Source for Studying the History of Climate Change

26 09 2009

In this video of a presentation he gave in October 2008, historian George Colpitts of the University of Calgary discusses how the records kept in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives can be used to study the history of climate in Canada.  The records kept by the trading posts and ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company have been used by many different types of Canadian historians (economic historians, gender historians, Native Land Claims researchers). Now they are being used by environmental historians working on the very important topic of historical climate change.

HBC Ships in Hudson Strait, Summer 1819

HBC Ships in Hudson Strait, Summer 1819

Colpitts gave this presentation at the Canadian Climate History workshop at the University of Western Ontario. You can watch the other presentations here.

Image Source: Library and Archives Canada.