Identity and Belonging in the St. Lawrence Valley

What does it mean to live on or near an international border, specifically one created by the natural landscape, such as the St. Lawrence River? How do these political and geographical borders shape the identities of people living there? Your university sits in the St. Lawrence River Valley, which has occupied an important place in the history of North America since the pre-contact period between First Peoples and Europeans. It has served simultaneously as a place of residence, transportation route, conduit of commerce, and sometimes national symbol. French explorer Jacques Cartier christened it the “River of Canada.” Indeed, the capital and technological flows between Europe, Montreal, and the Great Lakes region spurred new opportunities and migrations that owe so much to the force of this majestic river.

In this course, we will focus on the differing local and national cultures of the United States and Canada as seen in the St. Lawrence Valley. Using a roughly historical approach, we will trace early contact between First Peoples and European settlers, the portrayal of cultures and identities, colonization and expansion, and the development of each nation to the contemporary period. Our prime concern will be the definition of this borderland region as part of the two nation-states and the continuing role its First Peoples play in it. Case studies include differing approaches to Western expansion, models of settlement, trade (the fur trade to free trade), environmental issues, and approaches to social policy. We will expand our exploration of the cultural experiences of Canada and the United States, both mythic and real, outside the classroom through at least one field trip.