HIST 4303A: First Person Singular: Individual Lives & National Histories
Fall 2023

Instructor: Professor Michel Hogue

Description: In the 1960s and 1970s, a growing number of genealogists and family history researchers wrote to staff at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives asking for help identifying their British fur trade ancestors. In many cases, family stories that affirmed the high rank or noble origins of their ancestors ran up against archival evidence of rather more humble origins. And, more often than not, those archival investigations turned up evidence of marriages with Indigenous women, and connections to the sprawling and mixed fur trade world of nineteenth century North America.

For the researchers whose families had scrubbed all such mentions of Indigenous ancestry from their accounts, those revelations were not always welcomed. By the 1990s, by contrast, websites and online discussion forums burst with questions and advice by and about people anxious to prove some Indigenous ancestry. Where their predecessors seemed keen to hide Indigenous ancestry, this new generation of researchers seemed equally keen to claim it, even when those connections were dim, distant, or even fanciful.

Historians have typically paid little attention to genealogies or family histories. Seen as the province of amateurs, these family tales are often seen as too untrustworthy and too inconsequential to merit close investigation. Yet, the explosion in interest in genealogy and family history since the 1970s has meant that more and more Canadians have been in search of their family origin stories. More Canadians have been keen to claim Indigenous ancestry and then to use that ancestry to assert an Indigenous identity. Studying these stories in aggregate, this course suggests, can reveal larger lessons about the changing approaches to family histories, the ways researchers claimed labels such as “natives” and “settlers,” and the political implications of those shifts. By investigating the history of those ideas and the social, cultural, and political transformations that enabled them at the national level, this course seeks to connect the stories of individual lives to histories at the national level.

Format: This course will consist of seminar discussions. For the most part, these will focus on the joint consideration of assigned texts, primary sources, and other materials. It will also include mini-workshops on such themes as proposal-writing, research, primary source analysis, writing, and editing.

Evaluation: I have yet to settle on the exact assignments for the course. Our activities will likely include:

  • Active seminar participation
  • In-class writing assignments
  • Research or Review Essay

Questions? Please contact me at michel.hogue@carleton.ca