What to do about Newfoundland? Colonial Reconstruction and the Commission of Government, 1933-1941


Declan Cullen

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jamie L. Winders


Colonialism, Commission of Government, Development, Newfoundland, Subjects, Territory

Subject Categories

Geography | History


On 21 December 1933, The Newfoundland Act was passed in British Parliament. In the midst of economic crisis, Newfoundland uniquely, and voluntarily, relinquished self-rule. Fifteen years later in 1949, Newfoundland joined Canada. In the intervening years Newfoundland was ruled by a British-established Commission of Government. My dissertation is an historical-geographic analysis of the attempted reconstruction and rehabilitation of Newfoundland by British colonial authorities during the 1930s and 1940s. It draws on materials from Newfoundland and London archives, such as a range of official documents, maps, oral histories, travel narratives, diaries, newspapers, scientific reports, statistical collections, and secondary historical literature. Through a study of how Newfoundland was approached and interpreted by the Commission of Government during the island's moment of crisis, I analyze the complex transition from a colonial welfare approach to rebuilding Newfoundland to a modernist scientific approach. This transformation, I argue, is crucial to understanding the politics of both development austerity in 1930s Newfoundland, and the emergence of post-World War Two development regimes on the island. To expand this argument, I examine how British colonial development discourses, formulated in a variety of global settings, from Africa and the Caribbean to India and Britain, set the terms for debate and limits of possibility surrounding Newfoundland. My work, thus, connects Newfoundland to international comparative global networks of science and expertise. It shows that the modernist approach to developing and managing Newfoundland's population and resources has deeper origins than the post-war development arising from a North-American context. Those origins lie in the intricate local applications of Britain's late-imperial global development doctrines to understandings of Newfoundland as a place and a society.


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