Bleds de froment or cassave? Bread in the French Tropics during the Seventeenth Century

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger is from Bertie Mandelblatt, who is the George S. Parker II ’51 Curator of Maps and Prints at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a historical geographer whose research and publications address a number of intersecting questions related to the early Americas, and, in particular, both the early modern Caribbean and French overseas expansion: the geographies of subsistence, plantation slavery, and colonial trade and commodities; and cartography as an imperial practice. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, and yesterday’s post, by Zachary Bennett, here.

The economic potential of the trade in foodstuffs destined for France’s colonies in the Lesser Antilles in the eighteenth century—the period of the colonies’ economic pre-eminence—was common knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic. Metropolitan and colonial administrators, merchants and their lobby groups, all understood the profits to be made from the subsistence crises endemic to plantation slavery. This knowledge decisively shaped France’s restrictive trade policies in the decades before and after their formal articulation in law in 1717 and 1727.[1]

But what of earlier periods? How was colonial subsistence both imagined and daily enacted when colonial populations themselves were much less dense and characterized by a kind of demographic diversity and parity in which indigenous Kalinago outnumbered the newcomers (French, other Europeans, and Africans), a diversity which simply didn’t exist in the eighteenth century? Continue reading

Q&A with Christopher Parsons

Today Rachel Herrmann interviews Christopher Parsons about his book, A Not-So-New World, which Carla Cevasco reviewed yesterday. Parsons is an interdisciplinary historian of science and the environment in the French Atlantic World. He has a longstanding interest in highlighting the contribution of indigenous peoples to the evolution of European and Euro-American environmental sciences. He has published articles in the William & Mary Quarterly, Environmental History, Early American Studies, and several edited collections. He tweets as @cm_parsons. 

 JUNTO: A Not-So-New World includes a discussion about fraught vocabulary, including the word sauvage and your decision to leave it untranslated. Early Americanists have been thinking for a while now about the language we use when we write about the past, but many of us are just starting to think about the French sources that inform your book. Could you say a little bit more about other word choices you made, and some of the words in translation that non-French Atlanticists might want to use with more care?

Christopher Parsons: Word choice is so important when you are working between subdisciplines such as the history of science and environmental history and across national historiographies such as, here, early Canada and early America. These are such powerful markers of investments in particular fields or the influence of particular works. I was conscious for example, of the Canadian preference for indigenous over native and the familiarity of early Americanists with terms such as the pays d’en haut.

Yet there were real intellectual reasons for leaving key terms untranslated as well. Continue reading

Review: Christopher M. Parsons, A Not-So-New World

Christopher M. Parsons, A Not-So-New World: Empire and Environment in French Colonial North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). 

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Today, Carla Cevasco reviews A Not-So-New World: Empire and Environment in French Colonial North America by Christopher M. Parsons, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University. Tomorrow, the author will discuss the book in a Q&A with Rachel Herrmann.

When the French first invaded northeastern North America in the seventeenth century, they aspired to make wine from the indigenous grapes of the region. By the eighteenth century, however, they faced the disappointing reality that wine produced with French techniques from these grapes was acrid and viscous, and, moreover, that wine grapes native to France did not necessarily thrive in such a cold climate. The dream of Canadian wine proved a failure to early French colonists.[1]

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New Orleans at 300: A Year in Review and a Look to the Future

nola2018-Featured-Thumbnail.jpgAs 2018 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on this year and its meaning for a place that has become near and dear to my heart (and in-progress dissertation): New Orleans. Founded by the French in 1718, Louisiana’s largest city has been celebrating its tricentennial for months and in a way that only New Orleans can. Ranked number one on the New York Times “52 Places to Go in 2018” list, New Orleans continues to attract first-timers curious to discover “America’s most foreign city.” Repeat visitors, myself included, just can’t get enough, although my trips have taken me beyond Bourbon Street, from the attic of the city’s colonial-era Ursuline convent to the notarial archives of Orleans Parish, hidden within a twenty-story office building a stone’s throw from the Superdome. My own excursions aside, how exactly have we gone about celebrating, remembering, and thinking about the history of early New Orleans in 2018? What does the future hold?

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Creole Comforts and French Connections: A Case Study in Caribbean Dress

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Philippe Halbert. Follow him @plbhalbert.

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“Vêtement dit à la creole,” Galerie des modes et costumes français, Charles Emmanuel Patas after Pierre Thomas Leclerc, 1779, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1779, a fashion plate depicting a woman’s garment “in the creole style” was published in Paris. Consisting of a lightweight muslin gown with wrist-length sleeves, the dress was “in the style of a chemise,” the basic female undergarment of the period.[1] Worn over a petticoat, the gown was to be pinned at the bust and loosely closed with a sash or belt. In addition to enumerating its various components, which included a separate caraco jacket, the engraving’s caption remarked that the fantastic ensemble was “of the sort worn by our French Ladies in America.” At the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, French colonial possessions in the Americas were largely confined to the Caribbean Basin, a region where interactions between people of indigenous, European, and African descent brought about innovations in everything from architecture to foodways. Although the inhabitants of French-controlled islands like Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue, or Haiti, were not beyond the reach of Parisian novelty, the heat and humidity necessitated certain sartorial adaptations. Continue reading

“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

Q&A: Erin M. Greenwald, author of New Orleans, the Founding Era

Greenwald_2017Today at The Junto, Philippe Halbert interviews Erin M. Greenwald about her exhibition, New Orleans, the Founding Era, on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection through the 27 of May. Edited by Greenwald, the accompanying English-French publication features interdisciplinary essays by eight leading scholars and an illustrated catalogue. Before beginning as Curator of Programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2017, Greenwald was senior curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection, where she curated exhibitions including Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865, a traveling exhibition funded by the NEH and awarded the AASLH Leadership in History Award of Merit. Her first monograph, Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World, was published by LSU Press in 2016. Greenwald also chairs the New Orleans Slave Trade Marker and App Project, an initiative of the 2018 Tricentennial Commission, which anticipates placing six interpretive markers designating sites in New Orleans with direct links to the slave trade this summer.

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