Susan Birkwood

Associate Professor, Teaching Stream

Degrees:B.A. Honours, M.A., Ph.D. (University of Western Ontario)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 2302
Office:1928 Dunton Tower

Research Interests

  • Indigenous and Canadian literatures
  • Nineteenth-Century British Literature
  • Historical fiction
  • Travel literature

Current Research

Many years ago, my doctoral dissertation study of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century exploration and travel accounts of Canada led to research and teaching interests in Indigenous literatures and Canadian historical fiction, interests which have now expanded to include counter-narratives by Indigenous visual artists. That early study entailed considerations of genre, aesthetic conventions, gender, class, and ethnicity; however, it also paid particular attention to the theory of social development associated with the Scottish Enlightenment that posited a four-stage progression from savagery to civilisation based on modes of subsistence (from hunting and gathering through herding, agriculture, and commerce). This theory, one that informed European texts in the areas of economics, history, early ethnography, and literature, among others, was the filter through which British explorers and travellers observed North America, and its lexicon shaped not only literary representations of Indigenous peoples and of the settler-invader society but government policy as well. We live with its legacy still.

Initially intrigued by the ways in which some contemporary Canadian writers of historical fiction were engaging with the colonial past, I began to look at issues of genre as well as the implications of the relationship between past and present in texts that Herb Wyile characterised as “speculative fictions.” Since then, I have brought the work of commentators such as Wyile and Jerome de Groot to bear upon these contemporary texts while considering earlier discussions of the historical novel and its connections to the Bildungsroman in the works of critics such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Georg Lukács. But if the historical novel is a “form of commentary,” “a way to build the imagined community of a nation,” and / or, “a journey towards . . . redemption . . . and revelation” (de Groot), what is the relationship of the fiction that brings particular regions, peoples, and moments to imaginative expression to the larger Indigenous and Canadian realities—especially given the history of government policies and practices steeped in “shame and prejudice” to quote the title of a recent exhibition by Kent Monkman?

Honours and Awards

  • Professional Achievement Award 2017
  • Professional Achievement Award 2010
  • FASS Teaching Award 2009


Knight, Ann Cuthbert. A Year in Canada (1816). Ed. Susan Birkwood. London: Canadian Poetry Press, 2004.

Recent Publications

“Shifting the Narrative of Winnipeg’s North End in Katherena Vermette’s The Break.” Western Humanities Review. 73.3 (Fall 2019), pp. 17-49.

“Is It Still a Cinch? The Transformational Properties of Objects in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing.” Material Cultures in Canada. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2015. 107-27.

“From ‘naked country’ to ‘sheltering ice’: Rudy Wiebe’s revisionist treatment of John Franklin’s first arctic narrative.” Nordlit 23 (Spring 2008): 25-38.

“Anna Brownell Murphy Jameson.” The Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopaedia. Vol. 2. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003. 637-39.

“True or False: Anna Jameson on the position of women in European and Anishinaubae society.” Nineteenth-Century Feminisms 2 (Spring 2000): 32-47.

Recent Presentations

June 2019. “[T]he / syllabled fur”; or, Portrait of the poet as “mutt.” ACQL / ALCQ. Congress. Vancouver, BC.

November 2018. “Shifting the Narrative of Winnipeg’s North End in Katherena Vermette’s The Break.” Spectral Cities Conference. Calgary Institute for the Humanities. Calgary, AB.

May 2017. “A Youth Detained and the Past Arrested in Katherena Vermette’s The Break.” ACQL Annual Conference at Congress. Ryerson University. Toronto, ON.

May 2016. “The Legacies of Armed and Cultural Conflict in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing.” ACCUTE at Congress. University of Calgary. Calgary, AB.

August 2014. “The ‘Wretched Animals,’ the ‘Humble Beasts’: Timothy Findley’s The Wars and Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road” Canadian Literature of World War I. Ottawa, ON.

July 2011. “[N]ew ideas of the Indian character suggest themselves”: Anna Jameson as explorer and cultural observer in Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838). Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections. University of Lincoln, Lincoln, U. K.

May 2011. “Is it still a cinch? The circulation of clothing and accessories across geographical and social boundaries in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing.” Canadian Literature Symposium: Material Cultures. University of Ottawa. Ottawa.

February 2008. “From ‘naked country’ to ‘sheltering ice’: Rudy Wiebe’s revisionist treatment of John Franklin’s first arctic narrative.” Arctic Discourses. University of Tromsø, Norway.