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Civilizing the Wilderness
Culture and Nature in Pre-Confederation Canada and Rupert’s Land
A. A. den Otter
In this collection of essays, A.A. den Otter explores the meaning of the concepts "civilizing" and "wilderness" within an 1850s Euro-British North American context. At the time, den Otter argues, these concepts meant something quite different than they do today. Through careful readings and researches of a variety of lesser known individuals and events, den Otter teases out the striking dichotomy between "civilizing" and "wilderness," leading readers to a new understanding of the relationship between newcomers and Native peoples, and the very lands they inhabited. Historians and non-specialists with an interest in western Canadian native, settler, and environmental-economic history will be deeply rewarded by reading Civilizing the Wilderness.
Format:  Trade Paperback
ISBN:  978-0-88864-546-3
Price:  CND$ 49.95, USD$ 49.95, £ 41.99
Discount:  Short
Subject:  Canadian History/Environmental History
Publication Date:  April 2012
Reviews
“Enhanced with the inclusion of an extensive bibliography, footnotes, and a comprehensive index, Civilizing the Wilderness is an erudite and impressive work of seminal scholarship making it very highly recommended…”
The Midwest Book Review, July 12, 2012
"A.A. den Otter's Civilizing the Wilderness is a masterful study of the intertwined concepts of civilization and wilderness in mid nineteenth-century Upper Canada and Rupert's Land. Throughout the monograph, den Otter untangles a mass of overlapping intellectual, cultural, and social concepts that shaped how British-Canadians thought of landscapes and the peoples living therein. He also considers the various ways in which these notions affected newcomer relations with the land and its First Peoples.... By examining the concepts of civilization and wilderness within the whirlwind of their social, cultural, and intellectual contexts, den Otter nicely shows that these nineteenth-century views affected all policies, actions, and efforts directed towards the Canadian frontier and that these conceptualizations continue to enter studies about Aboriginal peoples, especially the Métis. This book will become a classic. It is a must-read for students, faculty, and all those interested in mid nineteenth-century Aboriginal/settler relations as well as environmental and intellectual history.”
Karl S. Hele, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXXIII, 2 (2013)
"Reading den Otter's compelling and convincing narrative, one receives little sense that there was much philosophical opposition to the bulldozing of the landscape and the destruction of the natural wilderness.”
Wayne Grady, Canadian Literature 218, Autumn 2013
"Newcomers to Canada and Rupert's Land in the mid-nineteenth century brought with them an assortment of cultural baggage.... Moreover, what den Otter terms the 'civilizing-the-wilderness' impulse -- which he defines as the desire to transform the northern territories into 'productive' lands -- proved so compelling that many Aboriginal and Métis people adopted this mentalité as their own... Civilizing the Wilderness is a valuable addition to Canadian historiography.”
Jonathan Clapperton, BC Studies, Autumn 2013
"A.A. den Otter presents in this book the views of different people through history on how they understood and defined the words ‘civilization’ and ‘wilderness’ particularly in relation to Canada, but also the United States.... The civilizing of Canada that began in the nineteenth century was not only of the aborigines but also the land mass and its natural resources.... This is a useful and informative book for those interested in the environmental development of North America in general and Canada in particular, as well as those who study the history of Canadian natives and immigration.”
Paiso Jamakar, Biz India Online News [Full review at http://www.bizindia.net/?p=3544]
"In this collection of essays, den Otter (emeritus, history, Memorial University) draws on primary source accounts to investigate how the British in pre-Confederation Canada defined and understood concepts of civilization and wilderness, and how these conceptions affected missionaries' and traders' drive to civilize Natives and the wilderness. The essays profile specific figures and incidents such as William Mason and Robert Rundle, Bishop Anderson, the Sayer Trial, Governor George Simpson's civilizing mission, the 1857 Parliamentary Select Committee, and the Red River Métis.”
Book News Inc., 2013
"The greatest strength of Civilizing the Wilderness is its rich and diverse selection of primary sources. Den Otter conducts a chorus of voices, mostly lesser-known figures that articulate varied perspectives on the 'civilizing-the-wilderness mandate.' Chapters often pair subjects: two sisters, two missionaries, two Native American preachers—with contrasting views of civilization and wilderness. Their accounts weave back and forth across decades, intersecting in locations and events.... Civilizing the Wilderness is a solid work of original scholarship that deserves to be on the shelf with any collection dealing with Canadian history or the history of North American settlement and the frontier. It is also profitable for those with an interest in environmental, economic, and social history.”
Shelly Sommer, Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, May 2013 [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1657/1938-4246-45.2.298]
"The notion of 'civilization' that he explores is one that involved not only the 'civilizing' of aboriginal peoples, but also taming of the 'wilderness.' [Otter] examines the recorded views of individuals like missionaries William Mason and Robert Rundle and aboriginal converts Henry Steinhauer, Henry Budd, and Peter Jones in exploring how 'civilization' and 'wilderness' were mostly perceived in pre-Confederation Canada as binaries defined through conflict and tension.... Drawing on not only history but also Canadian literature, this is a thoughtful discussion of Native-newcomer relations and the transformation of the environment and economy in western Canada in pre-Confederation Canada. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”
B.F.R. Edwards, First Nations University of Canada, Choice Magazine, March 2013
"den Otter uses [Henry] Budd's poignant story and those of his Anishinaabe Methodist contemporaries Henry Bird Steinhauer (Sowengisik) and Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) as parables to illustrate the dual cultural identities produced by the civilizing crusade and its pernicious hypocrisy.”
Heather Robertson, Canada's History, February-March 2013

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