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Islands of truth : Vancouver Island from Captain Cook to the beginnings of colonialism Clayton, Daniel Wright


This study examines Native-white relations on Vancouver Island, and the creation of the region as an object of imperial interest, between the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries. These processes are investigated using a range of empirical and theoretical materials, and in relation to the British Columbian present. Archaeological, ethnographic and historical evidence is considered alongside ideas about the nature of power, space and representation drawn from the critical literature on European colonialism. The study has a twin argument. First, it is argued that these phases of exploration, trade and imperial dispute should be studied in terms of a broader series of Enlightenment, commercial and geopolitical dynamics. But second, it is claimed that western agendas were not imposed on Vancouver Island in a mechanical fashion. They were warped in regionally specific ways because of the nature of the contact process. Western discourses and practices actively shaped Vancouver Island and were themselves reshaped in the process. Part 1 explores Captain James Cook's encounter with the Native people of Nootka Sound in 1778; the spatial and corporeal dimensions of contact are teased out in order to interrogate the scope and limits of Cook's scientific-humanitarian agenda. Part II assesses the Native-white sea otter trade on Vancouver Island between the 1780s and 1810s. It is argued that traders' assumptions about, and representations of, Native people were influenced by the commercial geography of the trade and by Native agendas. Part III deals with the way the region was refashioned as a prospective imperial space by western politicians, and the implications of this imperial outreach for Native peoples. Vancouver Island is viewed through methodological and archival lenses, and is connected to a broader late eighteenth-century capitalist-imperial world. This study works between Europe and Vancouver Island to illuminate the connections and fissures between knowledge, power and geography.

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