Sunday, December 22, 2013

La Galissonière and Harper?

The current Canadian Government's cavalier attitude towards researchers in general, and those who toil in the public service in particular, has been a topic of great frustration for many of my cohorts.  A review of Chris Turner's new book, The War on Science : Muzzled Scientists and Willful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada, just published by Ivan Semeniuk in the Globe and Mail, interestingly enough opens with... who might have guessed?  A governor of New France!

"It’s fair to say that the bewigged visage of Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière does not loom large in the Canadian psyche.  A naval commander and governor of New France in the mid-18th century, La Galissonière brought the spirit of the French Enlightenment to the new world and a passion for science to his colonial duties. For two short years, from 1747 to 1749, he was a whirlwind of inquisitiveness, directing his officers to observe, collect, chart, record and otherwise thoroughly document the natural history of the interior."

"Then La Galissonière was recalled to Europe and the administration of what would eventually become British North America was left to those of a less empirical bent. Not until Sanford Fleming arrived from Scotland a century later was there as strong a push in Canada to be at the leading edge of scientific discovery."

Those are Semeniuk's words.  A quick leafing through Turner's book, portions of which are available via Google Books, shows him beginning with Champlain and going on to state that La Galissonière's brief tenure the French colony was "a centre of Enlightenment scholarship" and "at the Enlightenment's vanguard" (a bit of an overstatement?).  But these seventeenth and eighteenth-century origins of what he calls the "Scientific Tradition in Canadian Government", as well as those of the nineteenth, are dispensed with in a mere two pages in a book whose focus is squarely contemporary.

Those interested in the subject matter should really keep an eye out for Chris Parsons' forthcoming book, Cultivating a New France: Knowledge, Empire and Environment in the French Atlantic World, 1600 – 1760.


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