Allan R. Greer

Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America

Tier 1 - 2017-11-01
Renewed: 2016-08-01
McGill University
Social Sciences and Humanities


Research involves

Examining the taking of native lands and the establishment of colonial property forms in New France, New Spain and New England.

Research relevance

This research will lead in a better understanding of current issues surrounding Aboriginal title, environmental regulation and property rights.

How Land Became a Commodity

Land wasn't always a commodity that could be bought, sold or inherited. At one time, native peoples controlled the land that made up the greater part of the North American continent. Neither they nor the Europeans who displaced them considered land ownership as absolute and individual.

Dr. Allan Greer, Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America, offers perspectives of the past in his studies of land tenure in the Early Modern period of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

In looking at these fundamental issues, he examines the various native forms of territorial possession, as well as the customs and legal systems imported by Spanish, English and French colonizers. In doing so, Greer is trying to gain a fuller understanding of the processes by which modern versions of property eventually emerged in North America.

The French introduced seigneurial tenure in Canada, while the Spanish emphasized open-range ranching in Mexico. The English, meanwhile, relied on the formalities of treaties and purchase to gain control of native lands.

As they went, those establishing colonies across the continent developed more precise and exclusive forms of property as they confronted native inhabitants with new techniques for surveying, mapping and registering lands.

Greer’s research outlines these important historical issues, which provide a valuable background in understanding current questions of Aboriginal title, environmental regulation and property rights.