Environmental Exchanges: Coll Thrush

‘Wakes: Maritime Violence, Colonial Origin Stories, and Unfinished Business on the Northwest Coast’

Professor Coll Thrush, University of British Columbia


This seminar is the first in the Centre for Environmental History's Environmental Exchanges series. Please note that this seminar will be held simultaneously online via Zoom and in person (subject to COVID restrictions) in Room 3.72 on Level 3 of the RSSS Building. To receive a link for the Zoom meeting, please register here.

Please note that this seminar will be held on Thursday 17 February at 10am AEDT (Wednesday 16 February at 3pm PST). 



This paper emerges from a book project on critical cultural and environmental histories of shipwrecks on the northwest coast of North America, a stretch of water that has been called "the graveyard of the Pacific" since the late nineteenth century. While neither was technically a wreck, two ships - the American trader Boston and Tonquin, the flagship of the American Fur Company - continued to sail in colonial imaginaries long after their destructions in 1803 and 1811. Following the narrative trail of the two vessels through sources ranging from traders' journals and captivity narratives to newspapers and children's books, this paper argues that accounts of these ships prefigured colonial-Indigenous relations in the later nineteenth century. Boston and Tonquin served as interpretive anchors in moments of maritime disaster, facilitating further violence toward Indigenous people and peoples and deepening entrenchment of the settler state. At the same time, such stories open up spaces to read between the lines of a brittle and tenuous empire, while Indigenous responses to shipwreck - both at the time and in memory - reaffirmed coastal sovereignties stretching from time immemorial to the present.


About the Speaker:

A graduate of Western Washington University and the University of Washington, Coll Thrush is professor of history and Killam teaching laureate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in unceded Coast Salish territories, and faculty associate with UBC’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies.


Professor Thrush is the author of Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place, which won the 2007 Washington State Book Award for History/Biography, and was re-released as a tenth-anniversary second edition in early 2017. He is also co-editor with Colleen Boyd of Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American History & Culture (2011). His most recent book is Indigenous London, which examines that city’s history through the experiences of Indigenous travelers – willing or otherwise – from territories that became the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. During the 2013-2014 academic year, he was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Historical Research of the University of London and the Eccles Centre Fellow in North American Studies at the British Library.


Professor Thrush’s current project returns to writing about the Northwest Coast of North America. In its very early stages, Wrecked: Navigating the Past in the Graveyard of the Pacific is a critical cultural and environmental history of shipwrecks, settler colonialism, and Indigenous survivance on the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, the project is under contract with the University of Washington Press.


Date & time

Thu 17 Feb 2022, 10–11.30am


Meeting Room 3.72, Level 3, RSSS Building, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT, 2601


Professor Coll Thrush


Centre for Environmental History


Dr Rohan Howitt


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