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Thomas Schira

Thomas Schira
Address IRTG Diversity
University of Trier
54286 Trier
Phone +49 (0)651-201-3327
E-Mail schira@uni-trier.de


Imagining Alterity: The Historicity and Transformation of Knowledge in John Jewitt’s Captivity Narrative (1807-2015)

(Supervisors: Ursula Lehmkuhl, Trier / Lianne Moyes, Montréal)

The indigenous attack on the American trading ship Boston in 1803 by members of the Nuu-chah-nulth in Nootka Sound and the subsequent captivity of John Jewitt - a young British blacksmith who served on board - became one of the best-known episodes of the maritime fur trade. This prominence was a result of the publication of Jewitt’s journal after his release from captivity with the title A Journal, kept at Nootka Sound (1807). Through a multitude of adaptations, Jewitt’s narrative became one of the most influential sources of European knowledge about the First Nations of Nootka Sound and Vancouver Island – in academic as well as in pop-cultural discourses.

This dissertation analyzes the representation and construction of Nuu-chah-nulth peoples in Jewitt’s journal and the adaptations of this text. The focus lies on the construction of alterity and identity in the texts, which had a profound influence on the discourse about Canadian First Nations of the Pacific Northwest while itself being influenced by this discourse. Thus, the analysis of Jewitt’s journal and its adaptions can show the societal sedimentation of knowledge and the historical nature of the construction of First Nations as Other.

Following a social constructivist approach, Other and Self are not understood as a binary dichotomy, but as complex constructions which are formed by a number of interdependent markers and which interact in a multi-relational network. Accordingly, intersectionality is used as part of the theoretical basis and methodological toolkit of the dissertation.

The leading questions of the project are: How is diversity constructed in Jewitt’s journal and its adaptions? What categories of diversity and otherness can be identified in the texts, how do they intersect and how do they change over time?

Political events and historical processes are closely intertwined with discourses about native otherness. The broad temporal focus thus allows one not only to analyze the historical nature and change of different categories of diversity and otherness in the longue durée, but also to consider social and political consequences that might correlate with them.


Since 2019
Doctoral Candidate at IRTG Diversity
Master of Arts (History)
Bachelor of Education (Biology and History)

Work Experience

07/2016 - 06/2019
Research Assistant in the project "Aschkenasische Juden im späten Mittelalter: Reaktionen auf Verfolgung, Entrechtung und Vertreibung" of the research group "Resilienz. Gesellschaftliche Umbruchphasen im Dialog zwischen Mediävistik und Soziologie", University of Trier
04/2016 - 03/2019
Research Assistant in the International Research Training Group "Diversity: Mediating Difference in Transcultural Spaces", University of Trier
03/2016 - 06/2016
Research Assistant at the Arye-Maimon Institute for the History of Jews in the Middle Ages, University of Trier


"Der Wald als Herrschaftsraum: Herrschaftsverdichtung im Spiegel von Forstgesetzen im Kurfürstentum Trier des 18. Jahrhunderts." Kurtrierisches Jahrbuch 56 (2016): 145-176.

Conference Presentations

"Imagining Alterity: The Historicity and Transformation of Knowledge in John Jewitt’s Captivity Narrative (1807-2015)"
Berichtskolloquium PROMT Neuzeit, Universität Trier, 27/10/2020.
"Colonial Knowledge in Circulation: John Jewitt and the Historicity of Knowledge"
"Canadian English Literature" Seminar, Université de Montréal, 28/09/2020.
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