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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Useful fortune: contingency and the limits of identity in the Canadas 1790-1850 Robert, Louise


In this study I analyze how Lower and Upper Canadians in the period 1790-1850 articulated ideas of the self in relation to concepts provided by the Enlightenment and more particularly by the notion of selflove. Canadians discussed the importance of individual self-interest in defining the self and in formulating the ties that would unite a multitude of strangers who were expected to live in peace with one another regardless of their religious, cultural and social affiliations. Scholarly discussion about the making of identities in the Canadas has, for the most part, focussed on community-defined identities even though it has always largely been accepted that the Canadas were 'liberal' and individualistic societies. The writings of known and educated Canadians show that the making of identities went well beyond community-defined attributes. To widen the understanding of the process of identity-making in Canada, I have utilized a wellknown medieval metaphor that opposes order to contingency or, as in the civic tradition, contrasts virtue and fortune-corruption. It becomes evident that those who insisted on a community-defined identity that subsumed the self in the whole had a far different understanding of contingent motifs than those who insisted on the primacy of the self in the definition of humanity. But both ways of dealing with contingency continued to influence how Canadians came to understand who they were. No consensus emerged and by 1850 the discussions of the Canadian self were rich and complex. The dissertation pays special attention to the methodological implications of utilizing binary oppositions such as the trope order vs contingency in fashioning the images of peoples and nations in ways that engage 'post-modern' notions regarding the construction of the identity of the 'Other'.

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