Indigenizing New France: Where are we now?

When and Where

Friday, January 25, 2019 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7


From whatever subject position we “indigenize”, we are always indigenizing something–something deeply entangled with colonial processes.

What has this meant in the case of New France? As early modern spatial or political phenomenon, it was elusive even to contemporaries. As historiographic artifact, it has been naturalized in startlingly different ways. Efforts to recreate the lived experience and vantage points of indigenous polities have been ongoing for decades now; in recent years, they have been deeply enriched by deliberate, community-based cultural revitalization projects. But the politics of cross-cultural knowledge remain complex, and play out differently in France, the United States, Quebec, and elsewhere in Canada. Efforts to dismantle colonialist understandings of New France are correspondingly fractured. Still, they have been fruitful, and shed important light on the workings of the early modern empires.


Trained as both a historian and an economist, Professor Desbarats is a founding member of the French Atlantic History Group. Her research and writing concerns mainly the history of the early modern colonial state, particularly its financial aspects.  In both her teaching and writing, she has a deep interest in decolonizing French imperial history, beginning with narratives relating to New France. She has published historiographic pieces on that topic in journals such as the William and Mary Quarterly, the Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française and the Journal of Early American History.  Her attempts to understand "early modern" indigenous vantage points have led her to think differently about the financing of empires, and the history of economic thought itself.  Canada’s seventeenth-century playing-card currency appears less as a picturesque footnote known only to monetary specialists, and more of a window into technologies of imperial violence and expansion.  Such themes are explored in her SSHRC-financed book- in-progress, “Money and Empire in New France.” In the same spirit, she is also co-writing, with Allan Greer, “New France: A Concise History,” under contract with Oxford University Press.

In cooperation with the Jesuit Archives in Montreal, and with graduate students Fannie Dionne and Sandra-Lynn Leclaire, she is also engaged in a pilot project to identify, transcribe and digitize early modern iroquoian/French language material written down by Jesuit missionaries.


1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7