Q&A with Christopher Parsons

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

Call for Papers: Zones and Lines, Water and Land: New Conversations on Borders

Dates: 22-24 May, 2019
Location: Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom

In the early modern world, no less than today, borders were contested spaces that fostered opportunity on one hand and anxiety on the other. New technologies expanded the reach and scale of maritime enterprises and empires even as control of coastlines and blue-water spaces remained elusive. European interest in a path to the “western sea” focused North and South American colonists’ attention westward to what turned out to be the landlocked interior of massive continents governed and defended by Native peoples already there. Marshes and mountains, estuaries and arid zones, lakes, rivers, fisheries, and forests shaped the movement, experiences, and encounters of Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans who lived in or entered particular spaces. Two distinct and usually separate lines of scholarship examine these spaces of border contest: inland “frontier” studies and maritime/Atlantic history. This conference invites participants to continue a conversation about the landed and aquatic frontiers of borderlands and maritime history to investigate in a broadly comparative framework how early modern actors defined, defied, and took advantage of borders, be they on land or on water. The organisers hope attendees will simultaneously consider how a variety of actors imagined, pictured, and mapped these spaces. This event provides a forum to explore topics including, but not limited to, port cities, divided, middle, and Native grounds, saltwater frontiers, migration, diaspora, epistemology, and settler colonialism. The co-organisers are historians of the Atlantic World, but welcome proposals from other geographies and fields. They are delighted that Dr Lissa Wadewitz, author of The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea, will deliver the keynote address. Continue reading