Friday, April 24, 2009

Hats and Dreams

A friend gave me Vermeer's Hat, a recent history by Timothy Brook subtitled "The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World." Until then, I had not been aware of Timothy Brook, an internationally published historian of China, but also a Canadian and a prof at my old alma mater even (and Oxford too).

Vermeer's Hat (the book) considers all the trade links beginning to draw the world together in Brook's seventeenth century -- and does it by following all the many hints about that process that Brook finds in Vermeer's paintings. For instance, Vermeer's hat (the hat, there in the cover painting) was a beaver hat, made from the beaver pelts that had recently begun to flow from Canada to the fashionable heads of Holland. So an early Brook chapter focusses on Champlain and the Canada-to-Europe fur trade.

Like David Hackett Fischer, whose Champlain biography we were considering the other day, Brook argues Champlain had a "dream." But Brook's Champlain's dream is not Fischer's one of French-Native harmony. For Brook, Champlain really only dreams of getting to China, and he'll walk over his native allies to get there.

Vermeer's Hat just won a new American prize, too: the Mark Lynton History Prize, sponsored by the terrific American writer J. Anthony Lukacs.
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