Today Rachel Herrmann interviews Christopher Parsons about his book, A Not-So-New World, which Carla Cevasco reviewed yesterday. Parsons is an interdisciplinary historian of science and the environment in the French Atlantic World. He has a longstanding interest in highlighting the contribution of indigenous peoples to the evolution of European and Euro-American environmental sciences. He has published articles in the William & Mary Quarterly, Environmental History, Early American Studies, and several edited collections. He tweets as @cm_parsons.
JUNTO: A Not-So-New World includes a discussion about fraught vocabulary, including the word sauvage and your decision to leave it untranslated. Early Americanists have been thinking for a while now about the language we use when we write about the past, but many of us are just starting to think about the French sources that inform your book. Could you say a little bit more about other word choices you made, and some of the words in translation that non-French Atlanticists might want to use with more care?
Christopher Parsons: Word choice is so important when you are working between subdisciplines such as the history of science and environmental history and across national historiographies such as, here, early Canada and early America. These are such powerful markers of investments in particular fields or the influence of particular works. I was conscious for example, of the Canadian preference for indigenous over native and the familiarity of early Americanists with terms such as the pays d’en haut.
Yet there were real intellectual reasons for leaving key terms untranslated as well. Continue reading