Sunday, March 16, 2008

Champlain in the news

John Allemang in the Globe & Mail has a long feature on Samuel de Champlain. He talked to a lot of people and gathered a lot of information. But the piece is shaped and, I think, marred by both the newspaper writer's wish to puncture official-history pomposity and the academic historians' penchant for debunking and minimizing.

Allemang wants us to believe Champlain was less important than the "official" narrative insists. He was just the local manager, Allemang says at one point, or he was only interested in China anyway, as one of his interviewees says on very limited evidence. Provocative? Well, mistaken too, I think. The merchants controlled what Champlain could do, certainly, but the merchants were not committed to colonizing -- to staying. Champlain clearly was committed to staying and to getting the French crown behind that commitment. I think Allemang and his interviewees mislead. The thing would not have stuck without him. Champlain was that central.

Best interviewee? Looks like Conrad Heidenreich to me, who has actually been reading Champlain intensely in recent years.
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