on 5 September 2010
A masterpiece, really.
David Hackett Fischer is definitely well-read about the colonial period and his subject, no doubt about it. In a bit more than 600 pages Fischer reveals his quest for Champlain's wisdom in bringing about the first European settlements into being in the North American wilderness. His writing is clear and precise, with some interesting insights into the problems faced by Indians-European relationship at that time. He grips his reader and doesn't let go.
The heroic life of Champlain and his remarkable work in founding "La Nouvelle France" put into contrast two models of development in North America. One based on exclusion and violence, a path far too often chosen by the first English, Spanish, and Dutch explorers and colonists. The other, Champlain's, implies a behaviour which aims actively at respect for others, natives and Europeans alike, according to Christian principles.
Such a vision upon which Champlain devoted his entire life shows a man far beyond compare. Coupled with his sense of reality shaped by decades of soldiery and leadership, Champlain was an empire-builder unlike so many others. His profound humility, disdain of violence, active rejection of abuse and exploitation along with other attributes such as soldier, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler made him the finest character. Someone that Canada should be proud of.
On a side note, I'd like to stress the point that Fischer's knowledge of French is really impressive. As a French native speaker I could only admire, eyes wide open, how competent Fischer (an American!) is in rendering his translation in modern English of the old French texts. Actually some English Canadian historians working on Canadian history should be inspired by the determination to give further qualitative content and meaning to their own work when reading Fischer's book - and rightly so.
on 24 December 2009
To understand America, you have to understand New York. To understand New York, you have to understand the Erie Canal. Acquaintance with the Erie Canal involves acquaintance with the Hudson River, which connects New York with the St Lawrence River and British colonialism with French colonialism. Indigenous American Indians are sandwiched between, like The Last Mohican. This connection culminates in the 7 Years War (1756 - 1763) which leads to 1776 in America and 1789 in France. That's why I was drawn to this book. It is the finest foundation stone for understanding modern (western hemisphere) history that begins with the French Wars of Religion and the broader European Reformation setting and links it with North America.
It reads with the immediacy of a travel guide and the characterisation of a novel. The history is worn with the lightness that only a personally engaged expert could muster. An astonishing literary gift to anyone who takes the time.