Wednesday, May 03, 2023

The DCB redoes a big one

As the Dictionary of Canadian Biography moves gradually through the 1930s and into the 1940s in its decade-by-decade progress in the publishing of authoritative biographies of Canadian historical personages, it is also looking backwards. From time to time, it adds new biographies of previously neglected figures -- or reworked version old biographies that have become, ah, dated, as new information and new attitudes need to be accommodated.

Today:  a new Samuel de Champlain, no less. The first DCB biography of Champlain, by Marcel Trudel, was published in 1966, in the DCB's first published volume. The "Document History" included with every online DBC biography, offers access to a revised version by Trudel from 1979 and to a "minor revision" in 2014, also credited to Trudel (who had died in 2011), but not to the 1966 text.  

The new biography is signed by Ramonde Litalien, former longtime director of Library and Archives Canada's program of research in French archives and noted scholar of early explorations. It is much longer (DCB biographies tend to be longer now that print space no longer rules), with coverage of and reflection on much recent research.  It's not a "politically correct" revision -- Champlain's relations with indigenous people, for instance, get more coverage, but it's not statue-demolishing coverage.  But I haven't scrutized or compared it in detail -- it would be interesting to see a study of the various versions by a Champlain scholar.

To my surprise, a baptism certificate found in  2021 2012 and dated 1574 that seems to establish Champlain's birthdate for the first time, is treated with a good deal of reserve by Litalien in the new biography. I had taken it as authoritative and was quite impressed to see it on display at Library and Archives Canada in 2013.  Litalien presents her view in detail in the new biography; I'm inclined to defer to her expertise!  

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