Exhibit puts Quebec on display

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The John Carter Brown Library is commemorating the anniversary of famous navigator Samuel de Champlain’s establishment of Quebec in 1608 with a new exhibit.

The exhibit, “Hostile Intimacy: A Century and a Half of Conflict Between New France and New England,” opened in December. It will remain at Brown until the end of February, when it will move to the Boston Public Library. Visitors can see the exhibit for free.

The display’s variety of media illustrate the history between New France – including territory that is now Quebec – and New England from 1608 to 1776. The exhibit has poetry, maps, documents, drawings and engravings from the era. It includes “Bref Discours,” the first manuscript that describes Champlain’s travels, and his first published book, “Des Sauvages”, according to a Feb. 7 University press release.

The John Carter Brown Library’s approximately 10-book collection of Champlain documents is “very good,” said Susan Danforth, assistant librarian for library operations and curator of maps and prints.

But the library needed about 70 pieces to create an adequate “visual narrative,” said Danforth, who is also the exhibit’s curator. So she completed the exhibit with other pieces from the library’s collection that, though not authored by Champlain, were related to the topic of relations between New France and New England.

Danforth began working on the exhibit in September. She wanted to display the way the “antagonism” between the French and English played out in a nascent America, she said. Danforth added that she wanted the exhibit to address a broader time period, rather than adhering to the traditional focus on the French and Indian War, which took place from 1754 to 1763.

After the exhibit relocates to Boston in March, it will acquire another piece called the “Cellere Codex,” a manuscript account of Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano’s early 16th-century travels up the Northeast’s Atlantic Coast and his stay in Narragansett Bay. The piece is on loan from the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

The manuscript is “one of the most important documents in the history of exploration,” according to the University press release.

“It’s a stunner,” Danforth said.

Ted Widmer, director and librarian of the John Carter Brown Library, said the exhibit will “highlight a world-class collection that is not all that well-known to the Brown community.”

Widmer said he hoped the display would help visitors appreciate the importance of the time period.

“If things had turned out a little differently, we might all be cheering for the New France Patriots,” he said.

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