Between islands of ethnicity and shared landscapes: rethinking settler society, cultural landscapes and the study of the Canadian west

Jeff Oliver, Ágústa Edwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


This article reviews and rethinks the study of cultural landscapes in the context of western Canadian settlement history. The historiography of scholarship on the colonial period, across a broad array of disciplines, follows themes central to the study of continuity and change in settler societies, including assimilation, cultural revivalism and transnationalism. Influenced by historical conditions particular to the region, namely, the creation of migrant block settlements and a legacy of multiculturalism, research has had a longstanding commitment to an ethnic history paradigm, which tends to orient our understanding of the cultural landscape in terms of what Brubaker and Cooper have called ‘identity history’. We argue that by focusing on relationships rather than boundaries, future research on the cultural dimension of settlement might move beyond ethnic history through investigating the possibilities of shared landscapes and communities of practice, built on the back of finding common material solutions to the problems of agrarian life.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)199-219
Number of pages21
JournalCultural Geographies
Issue number2
Early online date5 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

This article was written in connection with the project ‘European Migrant Landscapes and Intercultural Relations in Western Canada’ (Principal Investigator J. Oliver), based at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Help with sources was provided by individuals at a number instituions. In particular we would like to thank Marjory Harper at the University of Abedeen and Dr Birna Bjarndadottir and other staff at the Department of Icelandic Languages and Literature, University of Manitoba. Field work was carried out in both the Interlake
region and southwestern Manitoba. Thanks go in particular to our hosts in Gimli, Elva Simundsson and Jerry Jonason for their excellent hospitality. Earlier incarnations of some of the ideas presented here have benefited from comments received from Audrey Horning, Jim Symonds and Kurt Jordon. We are particularly grateful to Gerald Friesen and Ana Jorge for extensive feedback on earlier drafts. Finally, we would like to thank our peer reviewers for their clear-eyed assessment and useful suggestions, which we hope have helped to sharpen the final product. All errors are our own.

The research for this article was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Project Grant (RPG-2012-653).


  • cultural landscapes
  • Canada
  • ethnicity
  • historiography
  • settler society
  • communities of practice
  • shared landscapes
  • Canadian Prairies


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