RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Encountering the Indigenous Other in Historic Nova Scotia, 1749–1900

Richard H. Field, Saint Mary’s University

 In many respects, the significance of the New World has less to do with Columbus’s so-called “discovery” and more to do with the ensuing colonial and post-colonial aftermath. Ann Stoler explains. Reading Derek Walcott’s “Ruins of a Great House”1 as a “searing eulogy to empire” Stoler suggests, “the process of decay is on-going, acts of the past blacken the senses, their effects without clear determination. These crimes have been named and indicted across the globe, but the eating away of the less visible elements of soil and soul more often has not.”2 Robert Bevan in The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War also methodically chronicles the systematic obliteration of objects and architecture for the sole purpose of erasing the memories, history, and identities of the people attached to them to deny their past as well as their future.3 As Bevan states, “The link between erasing any physical reminder of a people and its collective memory and the killing of the people themselves is ineluctable.”4

Yet, the remnants of physical structures and objects have the capacity to embody and convey destroyed histories and memories. Beneath the farmlands, forests, streets, parking lots, common lands, gardens, public parks, and architectural structures of Nova Scotia lies the original shorelines, hinterlands, and settlements first occupied by Indigenous peoples for millennia that support long-standing Mi’kmaq claims of ownership by first possession later denied them by conquest and colonization. And it is in museums, archives, private collections, and archaeological sites where we find the skeletal remains and stone, bone, and pottery fragments of that Indigenous ruination often portrayed as the enchanted remains of a vanished past resulting from the inevitable consequences of empire building.
Using case studies, this essay examines various encounters between colonists, the Mi’kmaq, and the physical and affective landscape of British Nova Scotia from the founding of Halifax to the end of the 20th century.

  1. Ann Laura Stoler, “The Rot Remains” in Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination, ed. Ann Laura Stoler (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2013), 1.
  2. Stoler, “The Rot Remains,” 1.
  3. Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War (London: Reaktion Books, 2006), 8.
  4. Bevan, The Destruction of Memory, 8, 33.
  5. Click here for a bio of Richard Field.

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