Given the country's different regional identities and diverse cultural groups, Canada's history continues to be subject to re-interpretation. Historians like Dr. Colin Coates, who has served as director of Europe's oldest centre for Canadian studies for five years, are re-examining the country's past with an emphasis on the role played by women, Aboriginal peoples, non-European immigrants and other groups neglected in earlier historical interpretations.
Dr. Coates is particularly interested in using the insights of post-colonial theory, feminist and gender studies, and socio-cultural and environmental history to understand how Canadians created the cultural landscapes in which they lived.
In his work as Canada Research Chair in Cultural Landscapes, he will apply these approaches to an examination of various attempts to create utopian societies in Canada. Some examples of these communities include the Iroquois Confederacy, the Catholic refuge at Ferryland in 17th-century Newfoundland, the Counter-reformation town of Ville-Marie in 17th-century Quebec, the free African-Canadian model villages in southern Ontario in the 1840s and 1850s, and the various religious and socialist communities in western Canada - including the Doukhobours, Mennonites, Hutterites and the Finnish socialist community in Sointula, BC. Dr. Coates believes that these utopian experiments reveal the on-going struggle between people's religious, cultural and political beliefs and the physical landscapes within which they located themselves.
Dr. Coates will also pursue two other research streams already underway. First, he will explore the creation of an idealized absolutistic political culture in New France between 1663 and 1759. Second, he will look at the European notion of the "noble savage" in the context of Canada, and the way that early ethnographies of First Nations communities influenced the work of Scottish writers like Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson.
Among Dr. Coates' goals are a series of academic seminars and workshops, a multi-disciplinary conference on Canada's cultural landscapes and publication of a history of Canadian utopian visions.