RHS Lecture: ‘Possible Maps: Ways of Knowing and Unknowing at the Edge of Empire (Newfoundland, c. 1763-1829)’

21 May 2024

‘Possible Maps: Ways of Knowing and Unknowing at the Edge of Empire (Newfoundland, c. 1763-1829)’


RHS Lecture with Professor Julia Laite

held on 3 May 2024
at the Mary Ward House, London, and online


Listen to the Lecture


Watch the Lecture


Consigned to the cold and watery edge of empire, Newfoundland was more of a work-camp than a colony. To the colonial officials in their mahoganied offices in London and the merchants in their mansions in Poole, the island was (in the words of Patrick O’Flaherty) a ‘a sub-colonial fishing berth, an outlying cod abattoir’.

The interior was thought too barren and empty for landward expansion, but its foreshores and coastal waters were of vital economic and strategic importance to the British Crown, and this created a unique form of negligent colonization, which produced one of the Empire’s oldest and most isolated settler populations and led to one of its most totalizing genocides.

This lecture will examine some official and unofficial, and colonial and Indigenous, ways of mapping and knowing this hinterland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and will reconsider the place of this ‘unknown’ island and its difficult history within the British Empire.

Speaker Biography

Julia Laite joined Birkbeck in 2010 after holding postdoctoral fellowships at Memorial University of Newfoundland and McGill University, Canada. Her research examines the history of migration, gender, sex and crime, as well as family history, creative history and public history. She is the author of The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey (2021), Wolfenden’s Women (2020), and Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens (2012), and was principal investigator of the AHRC-funded project ‘Trafficking Past’. Her current work examines critical family history, settler colonialism and migration, and she currently holds an ISRF Mid-Career Fellowship to pursue a new book project.