Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Franco-American Empire that Almost Was

Douglas Glover offers a positive review of Philip Marchand's Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America. In a bit of French-Canadian and Catholic bias, I offer you this snippett:
He takes time to resurrect the Jesuits, especially the missionaries to the Huron, pointing out that, wrong-headed as they might have been in some ways, they far exceeded any other missionary group (especially Protestant Americans) in their ability to empathize with the natives. Their letters are our best source for what 17th-century native Canadians were like and had a profound influence on European thought from Voltaire (who wrote a novella set among the Huron) to Rousseau and his Noble Savage.

He reminisces about his boyhood rambles in the Massachusetts woods, notes with irony the fact that 40 per cent of the Catholic priests in the St. Ignace area are now Indians (from India), explains the shortcomings of the 17th-century French economic system, mounts a terse refutation of Marx (a modern and an enemy of religion) and then takes a quick stab at Michel Foucault and postmodern historians. But his tone is always amiably ironic; he wears his erudition lightly.

Marchand eschews political correctness, taking a swipe at native Americans for the unecological practice of running bison herds over cliffs. But then he digresses on how the Iroquois influenced Friedrich Engels's theories of the family. He is quite clear that native Americans took it in the neck through disease, war, displacement and economic disruption. But again, his point of view allows a wry observation. The fur trade brought the Iroquois sudden wealth but eroded their industrial base. Marchand says, "Perhaps the situation of the United States, in this regard, was not so different from the Great Lakes Indians four hundred years ago."
Sounds a like a book I'd find worth reading. It was my interest in my French-Canadian roots that led me back to my love of History and set me on the path towards getting an MA. (I still hold out hope for going for the PhD, but that'll have to wait for the kids to grow up...or the lottery!)

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