IU East associate professor of history releases book on Colonial North American merchant, fur trader John Askin

IU East associate professor of history releases book on Colonial North American merchant, fur trader John Askin

Justin M. Carroll has been passionate about history since he was a child.

That certainly shows in his enthusiasm for teaching at IU East.

Justin M. Carroll

And it shows in his euphoria for having a new book published about a fur-trading giant in Colonial North America and the Early Republic.

The associate professor of history is the author “The Merchant John Askin: Furs and Empire at British Michilimackinac,” which was released this month (in September).

Michilimackinac basically stands for the area between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. But fur tradings effect — and Askin’s effect — had a long range that reached into what is now southern Canada and down into what became Indiana and Ohio.

“The Illinois Country and the Ohio Valley figured prominently in most histories of the fur trade,” Carroll said. “(The) lands that would become Indiana and Ohio were important zones of Indigenous and imperial rivalry throughout the 18th century. This had to do with the fur trade, but also the agricultural productivity and material prosperity of the land itself.”

The biography is the first solely about Askin, who was a prominent businessman (and also liquor smuggler and adversary to the expansive Hudson Bay Company) during British control of the Great Lakes during the last decades of the 1700s.

Carroll received his Ph.D. at Michigan State in 2011. He teaches courses in Great Lakes’ Indigenous history and the history of the British Empire for the IU East School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

He said his research into Askin and the fur trade transforms easily into the classroom. That’s not only in the historical aspects, but also in better understanding the processes of researching, writing, re-writing and publishing — which each can encompass their own struggles. “I use it to demystify,” he said. “Often, when students read monographs in history classes, they are only aware of the finished products, I think it’s been very useful to show them all the steps in between.”

The book started as a project a decade ago in graduate school and turned into a dissertation before being published by Michigan State University Press.

“There’s a huge sense of accomplishment, relief, and even loss in that,” Carroll said.

“Before, I woke up everyday knowing what I was going to do; research the Askin book, write the Askin book, edit the Askin book, and now, it’s done and I’m entering a new project.  All and all, I feel glad that somebody thought it was worthy of publication, and people reviewed and said, ‘This adds something to the conversation.’”

Carroll said he loves the freedom that IU East encourages and the closeness to students that is a byproduct of being on a smaller campus. “(I can) engage students and history in different ways. For example, two years ago, we created a medieval cook site and did an outdoor medieval food demonstration,” he explains.

He took students from a course on the American Revolution to Virginia “and we explored how the past is remembered or misremembered by popular historical tourist attractions.”

He and students also “have established new ways of exploring the past through role playing and online gaming.  And I’ve been inspired and challenged by IU East students as well; I’ve grown a lot intellectually because of them.”

Carroll’s new book drew a good response from reviewer Brian Leigh Dunnigan, associate director and curator of Maps at University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.

He wrote: “The ephemeral, contested nature of British authority during the 1760s and 1770s created openings for men like Askin to develop a trade of smuggling liquor or to challenge the Hudson’s Bay Company’s monopoly over the fur trade, and allowed them to boast in front of British officers of having the “Key of Canada” in their pockets. How British officials responded to and even sanctioned such activities demonstrates the vital importance of trade and empire working in concert.

“Askin’s life’s work speaks to the … vital need for the North American merchants, officials, and Indigenous communities to establish effective accommodating relationships, transgress boundaries (real or imagined), and reject certain regulations in order to achieve the (British) empire’s goals.”

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