Historica Lecture explores Samuel de Champlain’s legacy

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer will give the 2013 Avie Bennett Historica Chair Lecture in Canadian History on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 7pm, X106 Executive Learning Centre, Schulich School of Business. The lecture will be on the subject of his latest book, Samuel de Champlain, and all are welcome.

champlainposter2Fischer, a professor at Brandeis University, is the author of Champlain’s Dream (2008). The title of his talk is “Champlain, Humanist: The Founding of New France and the History of Canada.”

The talk centres on a puzzle in the early history of Canada, says Fischer: “More than in New England, New Spain and New Netherland, the founders of New France and Native Americans were remarkably successful in getting on with each other. One question is about how and why they were able to do so. Another question is about consequences, which have been profoundly important for the history of Canada from the early 17th century even to our own time.”

The French success in North America  “was due, Fischer argues, in large measure to one man: Samuel de Champlain,” wrote reviewer Max Boot about Champlain’s Dream in The New York Times Oct. 31, 2008:

“He was never the senior official of New France; that job always fell to a titled viceroy safely back in France. But during the pivotal years from the founding of Quebec in 1608 until his death in 1635, he was the senior man on the spot. Thus he became known as the father of New France, as well as a soldier, mariner, cartographer, writer, artist, naturalist and ethnographer of renown. But he wasn’t just a man of the frontier. Some of his most important achievements, Fischer suggests, occurred not in the North American wilderness but in the gilded salons of Paris, where his incessant lobbying kept alive royal support for the daring American enterprise. Not the least of his achievements was surviving 27 crossings of the North Atlantic in 37 years without losing a major ship, at a time when every voyage risked disaster.

“For all of Champlain’s achievements, few biographers have ever chosen a tougher subject. His papers were lost, and little is known about his early life or inner life. What year was he born? Was he the illegitimate son of the lascivious King Henri IV? Was he originally a Protestant or Catholic? No one knows for sure. It’s not even clear what he looked like, since, as Fischer notes, only a single ‘authentic likeness … is known to survive from his own time’ — and that is a tiny self-portrait in a larger engraving depicting a battle scene.”

Fischer won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2004 book Washington’s Crossing, about troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, and the American Revolution. “But his true masterpiece,” writes reviewer Boot, “was Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, published almost 20 years ago.” In it Fischer explains American cultural variations on the different geographical origins of four groups of British settlers — Puritans, a Royalist elite, Quakers and Scots-Irish.

The Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History was established at York University in 2004 by the Historica Foundation of Canada, endowed by Chancellor Emeritus Avie Bennett. Its purpose is to promote the study of Canada’s heritage and ensure the academic vitality of the discipline.