Approaches to Empire: Hydrographic Knowledge and British State Activity in Northeastern North America, 1711-1783
Marsters, Roger Sidney
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This dissertation studies the intersection of knowledge, culture, and power in contested coastal and estuarine space in eighteenth-century northeastern North America. It examines the interdependence of vernacular pilot knowledge and directed hydrographic survey, their integration into practices of warfare and governance, and roles in assimilating American space to metropolitan scientific and aesthetic discourses. It argues that the embodied skill and local knowledge of colonial and Aboriginal peoples served vital and underappreciated roles in Great Britain’s extension of overseas activity and interest, of maritime empire. It examines the maritimicity of empire: empire as adaptation to marine environments through which it conducted political influence and commercial endeavour. The materiality of maritime empire—its reliance on patterns of wind and current, on climate and weather, on local relations of sea to land, on proximity of spaces and resources to oceanic circuits—framed and delimited transnational flows of commerce and state power. This was especially so in coastal and riverine littoral spaces of northeastern North America. In this local Atlantic, pilot knowledge—and its systematization in marine cartography through hydrographic survey—adapted processes of empire to the materiality of the maritime, and especially to the littoral, environment. Eighteenth-century British state agents acting in northeastern North America—in Mi’kmaqi/Acadia/Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, and New England—developed new means of adapting this knowledge to the tasks of maritime empire, creating potent tools with which to extend Britain’s imperial power and influence amphibiously in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. If the open Atlantic became a maritime highway in this period, traversed with increasing frequency and ease, inshore waters remained dangerous bypaths, subject to geographical and meteorological hazards that checked overseas commercial exchange and the military and administrative processes that constituted maritime empire. While patterns of oceanic circulation permitted extension of these activities globally in the early modern period, the complex interrelation of marine and terrestrial geography and climate in coastal and estuarine waters long set limits on maritime imperial activity. This dissertation examines the nature of these limits, and the means that eighteenth-century British commercial and imperial actors developed to overcome them.
- hydrography pilotage navigation war engineering drawing art shipwreck empire colonialism Aboriginal indigenous vernacular northeastern North America Mi'kmaqi Acadia Nova Scotia Newfoundland Labrador Quebec Maine New England Canada New France cartography survey knowledge epistemology early modern eighteenth century Atlantic Ocean oceanic littoral coastal riverine estuarine communications transportation Seven Years' War American Revolutionary War St. Lawrence River St. John River Great Lakes abjection local