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Colonial Relations
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Book description

A study of the lived history of nineteenth-century British imperialism through the lives of one extended family in North America, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. The prominent colonial governor James Douglas was born in 1803 in what is now Guyana, probably to a free woman of colour and an itinerant Scottish father. In the North American fur trade, he married Amelia Connolly, the daughter of a Cree mother and an Irish-Canadian father. Adele Perry traces their family and friends over the course of the 'long' nineteenth-century, using careful archival research to offer an analysis of the imperial world that is at once intimate and critical, wide-ranging and sharply focused. Perry engages feminist scholarship on gender and intimacy, critical analyses about colonial archives, transnational and postcolonial history and the 'new imperial history' to suggest how this period might be rethought through one powerful family located at the British Empire's margins.


'Adele Perry has given us a richly textured account of a prominent and influential 'Canadian' family whose networks and tendrils shaped the histories of Vancouver Island and the interdependent imperial worlds beyond it. A cultural history of complexly social selves, Colonial Relations never loses sight of the work of intimacy in the making of colonial connection, the centrality of marriage to the political economy of settler colonialism, or the malleability of race and gender and sexuality in the grip of imperial power. Perry's history of the Connollys and the Douglases is brimming with insight and wisdom and archive stories that we will be reckoning with for years to come.'

Antoinette Burton - University of Illinois

'Adele Perry's close study of archives' representations of race, class, and gender in the colonizing world is valuable both in itself and as a caution for future research. Perry powerfully reminds us, not only is the Douglas–Connolly family history she interrogates partial, but so are all others by choice and by chance.'

Jean Barman - University of British Columbia

'We thought we knew this story - of James Douglas, upright governor of British Columbia and his reticent fur trade wife, Amelia. In Colonial Relations, Adele Perry offers a version far richer and more compelling. In this exhaustively researched, beautifully written volume, Perry uses the Douglas family to illustrate and bring to life the gendered networks, imperial intimacies and hybrid social world of colonial encounter in the long nineteenth century. Relationships stand at the centre of this book - of the Douglases themselves, and their children, deeply embedded within the densely woven Metis world of western Canada but also of extended families flung across the British Empire. From a vantage point that spans continents and generations, Perry recalibrates the Douglas narrative and in so doing offers fresh insights into a complex and consequential history that is both Canadian at its core and colonial in its reach.'

Mary-Ellen Kelm - Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

'In Colonial Relations, Adele Perry tracks the transcolonial histories and shifting registers of imperial intimacies across dispersed archival sites, geographies, and spaces: Caribbean sugar plantations, Canadian fur-trade forts, Scottish schools, and the family home. At the heart of Colonial Relations are the Douglas–Connolly family, whose lives and experiences animate and knit together a series of colonial locations rarely ever brought together into one analytical frame. Through their lives, Perry deftly weaves together a striking and powerful analysis of the way intimate matters helped to make and unmake empires, colonies and nations during the long nineteenth century.'

Angela Wanhalla - University of Otago, New Zealand

'Colonial Relations is an absorbing and powerful history that traces the Douglas–Connolly family across time, continents and in many 'ragged margins' of the British Empire … But while one family forms the spine of the book, this is an imperial and global history that re-directs and expands our understanding of not only the colonial world of the nineteenth century, but also of the complicated present of settler colonial and post-colonial societies. It demonstrates the profoundly gendered architecture of colonialism that has implications and legacies today. Colonial Relations is also an important critique of the conventions of writing about the imperial past, of histories that are rooted in national boundaries, and of the colonial archive.'

Sarah Carter - University of Alberta

'This is an enormous achievement. Adele Perry's study of the Douglas–Connolly family and especially of one of its members, colonial administrator, James Douglas, is at one level a lively narrative history of a family, deftly introducing historical figures and exploring their personal trajectories and networks of relationships. At the same time, as readers we are drawn into an exploration of many of the issues that make history so exciting today … For those of us investigating similar themes in other places, as I am, part of the charm of this book is that the story told here is both parallel to and yet utterly different from our own. To those looking for readable and locally-grounded colonial histories that also illuminate larger imperial and indeed world history themes, I will in future say read Perry's Colonial Relations.'

Ann Curthoys - University of Sydney

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  • 1 - Empire, family, and archive
    pp 1-19


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