Event Tomorrow: “Peopling the North American City” with Patricia Thornton

26 Jan

Friday January 27th, 2012

12th floor of the Hall Building, room 1252,
Concordia University

Presentation given by Patricia Thornton under the same title as her recent publication:

“Peopling of a North American City: Montreal 1840-1900 McGill-Queens Press 2011.

This book is the culmination of 20 years of research on 19th century Montreal. Historical demographers have shied away from studying complex urban populations because of their size and mobility but through the lens of twelve surnames our “miniature Montreal” tracks over 60 years about one individual in two hundred. Their experiences allows us to identify three skeins of continuity, three patterns of choice, and in the timing of their marriages, births, deaths, and moves, three demographic regimes. Despite continual exchange and some intermarriage among French Canadians, Irish Catholics and Anglo-Protestants, each reproduced themselves in quite different ways and points to the existence of three quite distinct demographic systems and strategies, which persisted over the three or four generations, undermining presumptions of cultural “assimilation” of migrants. Our findings force us to question certain other interpretations in the literature of the North American city, to make a case for the importance of family and kin in understanding social change, and to assert rather vigorously the importance of “cultural difference” in demographic analysis. Down to 1900 there is little evidence of a sanitary or epidemiological transition in Montreal but we do see the beginnings of a fertility transition. Stability is most impressive with respect to the inequalities of voice, purchasing power, and access to real property, but upward social mobility is apparent among second and third generation French and Irish and all groups adjusted in response to rapid growth and industrial transformation. People were responding in a variety of ways to a wide range of circumstances. They were operating in contexts of intense personal mobility – geographic and social, long-distance, local, or around the corner. Even in very tight circumstances, individuals were making choices, sometimes conscious, sometimes intuitive, and we argue that their experiences with moving sharpened their awareness of the space for maneuver, and promoted a calculus of choice and agency.”
(excerpt taken from faculty profile at Concordia Geography, Planning and Environment website)


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