Thursday, November 28, 2013


nouvelle fr1.jpg
Deux volumes, publiés par les Éditions Armand Colin et le Ministère (français) de la Défense, viennent conclure un cycle de réflexion entamé autour des anniversaires de la Guerre de Sept Ans, de la Conquête, et du Traité de Paris : La fin de la Nouvelle-France, sous la direction de Bertrand Fonck et Laurent Veyssière, et, sous la direction de ce dernier, La Nouvelle-France en héritage.  À l'enseigne du Septentrion, Sophie Imbeault, Denis Vaugeois et cet omniprésent Veyssière publient 1763.  Le traité de Paris bouleverse l'Amérique.
Pour ceux d'entre vous qui en auraient assez de la Conquête, une nouvelle édition critique de Louis Hennepin vient aussi de paraître aux éditions Anacharsis.  Découvrir, le magazine de l'ACFAS, en résume les grandes lignes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wolfe Papers

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto has acquired a trove of 233 letters written by James Wolfe to his parents between 1740 and 1759.  The price?  1.5 million, which the library managed to raise with the assistance of Helmhorst Investments and the Movable Cultural Property Directorate at Canadian Heritage.  Christies brokered the sale for what the Globe describes as an "unidentified British family"  -- which I presume to be the Warde family, descendants of Wolfe's friend George Warde, who lately have taken steps to divest themselves of several valuable heirlooms.  
A collection of letters written by General James Wolfe to his family is coming to Canada from Great Britain. The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, the largest academic library in Canada, has acquired the archive for about $1.5-million. (HANDOUT)
Photo: Globe and Mail.
This is a great score for the Fisher Library.  Yet two thoughts dampen my enthusiasm somewhat.  The first is that the Canadian purchase was made despite efforts to keep the documents in Great Britain.  A good overview of this collection's importance as ascertained by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, can be found here.  In light of this, Britain’s culture minister imposed a two-month ban on the export, in the hope that a British buyer might come forward to match or exceed the price offered.  None was found, and on Sept. 30th the minister approved the removal to Canada.  Canada's gain, in this sense, is Britain's loss.  Where does a collection of the sort belong?  To whomever has the deepest pockets?  I'm not entirely convinced that this is the best criteria.

The second thought that crossed my mind, speaking of where a collection of the sort might belong: where was Library and Archives Canada in all of this?  Were they approached by Christies?  Did they show any interest?  Did they make any attempt to raise funds for the purchase?  In other words, is the U of T's good news evidence of the ongoing bad news over at LAC?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Colloque: Paris 1763, Paris 1783

Vous souvenez-vous de la table ronde organisée autour de l'anniversaire du Traité de Paris, au mois de janvier, au Musée Pointe-à-Callière?  Un second événement s'annonce de l'autre côté de l'Atlantique.  La section France de la Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs organise un colloque à Paris, cette semaine, sur le traité et ses suites. 



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Forts in the News

Over in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, an outdoor model of Fort Augusta was dedicated last weekend.  Turning to Wikipedia in order to look up some basic facts about the fort's history, I was amused to learn that "Fort Augusta was a fat turd in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, in the upper Susquehanna Valley from the time of the French and Indian War to the close of the cheese."  Thank you for the gift of laughter, Wikipedia! I wonder how long it will be before someone fixes the offending entry.

In more serious fort news, six wooden pieces of timber from Fort Edward were repatriated to the Rogers Island Visitors Center in the village of Fort Edward, New York.  Accidentally ripped out by Hudson River dredgers four years ago, they had until now been in storage at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont.

In sadder fort news, Fort Necessity was one of five national parks in western Pennsylvania shuttered by the partial federal government shutdown last month. About two thousand people would have visited the site of an early battle in the French and Indian War during the sixteen days of the shutdown. 

Meanwhile, over in Cape Breton, a former Parks Canada archaeologist expresses worries over the apparent lack of careful archaeological planning around the construction of a new walking trail near the Fortress of Louisbourg.  A backhoe preparing the ground for the trail smashed into some early eighteenth-century house foundations.  Ooops!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Prix Gérard-Morisset 2013

Reprenant la thématique muséale de l'avant-dernier billet, soulignons que Madeleine Juneau, directrice générale de la Maison Saint-Gabriel, vient de remporter le prestigieux prix Gérard-Morisset 2013.  Il s'agit de l’un des treize Prix du Québec, décernés annuellement par le gouvernement provincial, celui-ci en reconnaissance d’une carrière remarquable dans le domaine du patrimoine. 

Située à la Pointe-Saint-Charles, la Maison Saint-Gabriel est un des hauts-lieux de l'histoire de la Nouvelle-France.  Acquise par Marguerite Bourgeoys pour servir à la Congrégation de Notre-Dame en 1668, elle restera au cœur des activités agricoles et éducatives de la CND pendant trois-cent ans.  Le site, qui lui appartient toujours, est géré par une corporation sans but lucratif dirigée par un Conseil d'administration de neuf membres.  Mme Juneau en est la directrice générale depuis 1997. Félicitations!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thwaites and Co.

Over at Active History, Katie McGee draws our attention to an anniversary which had not crossed my mind: the passing of Reuben Gold Thwaites (1853-1913), general editor of the famed Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents.  Good catch!  A minor correction, though, is required.  The year in question was not "the same year of the final publication of his seventy-two volume" magnum opus; the final seventy-first, seventy-second and seventy-third volumes were all published in 1901.
The Challenge : Transcribing and translating the original Jesuit Relations and related documents.

Katie sums up very well the remarkable value of the Thwaites edition of the Jesuit Relations, but I can't resist adding a few thoughts of my own.  My first has to do with the care that should be exercised in relying on this source.  The quality of the English translation of the French, Latin and Italian text is excellent overall, but this is not to say that it is perfect.  There are a number of small but consequential mistranslations, which in some cases have echoed unchecked through the secondary literature.  Best to always refer back to the transcriptions of the original language, which thanks to a solid editorial vision can be found on the page opposite the translation.

Another thought: why not take this opportunity to foreground the man behind the book?  I would bet you, dear readers, that among even the most dilligent users of the Thwaites edition of the Jesuit Relations, there are very few who know anything about Thwaites' background.  Born at Dorchester, Massachusetts, he was interestingly enough the son of two Yorkshire immigrants -- not one of those Boston Brahmins, like his elder Parkman.  At age thirteen, young Thwaites moved with his parents to a farm in Omro near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After working as a farmhand and going to public school, he taught elementary classes and instructed himself in a range of collegiate subjects.  Later he spent a couple of years as a special student at Yale, where he studied English lit, economic history, and international law. 
Thwaites had begun to write for newspapers in Wisconsin.  He became a staff member of the Oshkosh times, and soon moved on to Madison to serve as city editor and later managing editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.  He married in 1882 and the following year had a son, Frederick, who incidentally would go on to teach geology at the University of Wisconsin.  Thwaites for his part could not resist the call of Clio.  He was persuaded to become assistant corresponding secretary of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and then its secretary in 1887. 

The Man : Reuben Gold Thwaites.  That is
a dandy necktie, I must say.  What the picture
doesn't show is that Thwaites was known for
taking off his shoes and easing into a pair of
slippers upon arriving at the office every morning.
Thwaites revealed himself an energertic and visionary administrator, on top of being an erudite scholar and a fluent writer and editor.  Louise Phelps Kellogg, who served as senior research assistant at the Historical Society, described him as “never too busy to discuss the value of placing a comma correctly.”  Another acquaintance declared: “Energy, thy name is Thwaites”.  Because of his command of the subject matter, good nature and sense of humour, he elicited a measure of devotion that his successors at the head of the Historical Society apparently found difficult to match.  He died suddenly on October 22, 1913, a day before his society's annual meeting. 

Now, I would also bet you that it occurs to rather few users of the Thwaites edition of the Jesuit Relations that behind the man there was a veritable legion.  A quick glance at the title pages of the first and last volume of the series reveal the identity of some of these collaborators.  Besides Thwaites, who is credited as general editor, we find the names of several other editors: Finlow Alexander, Percy Favor Bicknell, John Cutler Covert (all for the French), William Frederic Giese (Latin); and of translators: Crawford Lindsay, William Price, Hiram Allen Sober (French), Mary Sifton Pepper (French and Italian), John Dorsey Wolcott (Latin).  Emma Helen Blair served as Assistant Editor, and Victor Hugo Paltsits as “Bibliographical Advisor”.  Edward P. Alexander, in The Museum in America: Innovators and Pioneers, allows us to add a seemingly uncredited name to the list, that of Annie Amelia Nunns, who eventually became Thwaites’ executive secretary, and whose work,  Alexander reports, involved toiling on the Relations “long hours, often at night”.  Louise Phelps Kellogg surely contributed something to the project as well.  Surveying the front pages of the other seventy-one issues might reveal other names.  It is interesting to note the number of women among these collaborators working in the shadows of the great man.  Some of them, like Blair and Kellogg, were formidable historians in their own right.

On this hundredth anniversary, then, three cheers for Thwaites and Company!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mémoires Amérique française

Le 10 octobre dernier, durant le congrès de la Société des Musées québécois, vient d'être inauguré le portail numérique "Mémoires Amérique française".

Le portail, mis sur pied par la Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs, donne accès à une banque de données descriptives d'objets muséologiques remontant à l'époque de la Nouvelle-France conservés dans quinze musées québécois et quarante musées français.  Les notices d'objets ont été rassemblées par la Commission avec la collaboration de l'École du Louvre, du Musée du quai Branly et de la Société des musées québécois.

L'idée est splendide.  L'exécution déçoit cependant quelque peu.  La sélection d'objets est extrêmement attrayante, mais elle renvoie à une définition un peu trop élastique à mon goût de "la Nouvelle-France".  Un survol rapide des notices révèle en effet plusieurs objets autochtones antérieurs au XVIe siècle et d'autres postérieurs au mitan du XVIIIe -- on en retrouve même du début du XXe!  Une des collaboratrices au projet, Marie-Bénédicte Seynhaeve-Kermorgant, décrit les artefacts comme "représentatifs des cultures indiennes et métisses qui se sont développées dans l'espace de la Nouvelle-France."  C'est discutable.  Idem dans le cas de certains objets canadiens-français qui se sont inexplicablement retrouvés dans la base de données : une statue de plâtre d'Étienne-Pascal Taché (1795-1865) par Louis-Philippe Hébert, par exemple, d'un gramophone ou d'une ceinture de championnat de l'athlète Victor Delamarre (1888-1955)!  Il va falloir faire le ménage dans tout ça, je crois, ou alors reformuler les termes de référence du projet. 

Et que dire du médiocre texte de contextualisation par Pascal Mongne, historien de l'art responsable à l'École du Louvre du cours de spécialité sur les arts des Amériques : "Nom aujourd'hui presque oublié, la Nouvelle-France, des deux côtés de l'Atlantique, n'éveille que des souvenirs d'écoliers, lourds en fait de mélancolie, de regrets même, et parfois de reproches pour ceux qui l'abandonnèrent voici maintenant 250 ans. [...] La Nouvelle-France fut cependant une réalité historique."  Non, sans blagues?