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Teaching about the French colonies in North America.

Through the study of the French colonies in North America, we discover "another" American history that has been obscured in the narrative offered in most texts and courses at all levels of education in the United States. While American history as it is taught today focuses almost exclusively on the British Atlantic seaboard colonies as the origin of our nation, France once controlled a vast expanse of North America. Seeking to fully exploit the fur trade and secure key water routes, the French expanded their claims to include most of the inner continent by the early 1700s. Studying these colonies is essential to a broader understanding of the development of this continent. The history of the French colonies in North America is particularly relevant to students at my institution, Oakland University, a public university with nearly 19,000 students in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.

In the Detroit metro area, the history of French colonial expansion has important local significance. Students, alumni, and amateur historians enjoy learning about the colorful and rich history of New France and its cast of larger-than-life people: the Iroquois and Huron; the French "Sun King," Louis XIV; the enigmatic adventurer Cadillac who served as commander at Fort Michilmackinac and founded Detroit. In addition to these prominent figures, the history of New France offers insights into aspects of natural and economic history. For example, the impact of the Michigan "Great Beaver," which fascinated European observers and eventually lent its name to one of today's major thoroughfares in the Detroit suburbs: Big Beaver Road. Amazingly, waterproof beaver felt hats made from these creatures were the sole basis of New France's lucrative transatlantic fur trade as the coveted headwear was an important fashion accessory for wealthy French men. Tying the past to the present in such a manner entices students to delve deeper into the area's early influences.

Trained as an early modern French historian, I am a new comer to colonial studies. In many respects, my own transformation parallels the shift in the field of French history from one grounded within national borders on the European continent to one with a wider focus on the interactions and encounters that connected France to the larger world. My first book examined the implementation of royal policies within France by analyzing the political networks and policies of Louis and Jerome Pontchartrain, who served as royal ministers for Louis XIV in the 1680s-1715. Among other governmental units, they oversaw the department of the navy and the colonies. After moving to Michigan for my position at the university, I discovered that Detroit was established in 1701 because Cadillac won the favor of the Pontchartrains for his proposal to found the settlement. They, in turn, secured the king's support for the project. To show his gratitude, Cadillac named the settlement: "Fort Pontchartrain at the Strait" (Fort Pontchartrain ddetroit). Thus, my earlier research and my move to Detroit provided the perfect segue to study the colonies in New France.

More and more European and French historians agree that studying "the colonies" is central to understanding European and French history. I now include sections about the Atlantic world or New France in all of my courses and have designed a research course around these themes. I frequently teach a section of a capstone course that is required for all our graduating seniors at the university. Typically, faculty members choose a specific theme or period of history to serve as an anchor for the course. Students then formulate and complete an independent research project on a topic that meshes within the larger theme. They must work from primary sources and situate their analyses and arguments within the existing scholarly literature. In the end, they produce a twenty to thirty-page research paper.

Using the theme "France in the Americas" I have created a framework for the capstone class that allows students to explore French colonial history in North America and the Great Lakes region through the use of primary sources. One of the limiting factors in teaching this class, especially on European history topics, has been locating suitable primary sources that are in English and readily available to serve as the centerpiece of students' projects. While conducting my own research, I realized that many primary sources for French colonial history had been translated and made available on-line through the work of Canadian, French, and American libraries and archives.

Taking advantage of this technological advance, I compiled a comprehensive list of these on-line documents. Now, Oakland students researching from home can read the descriptive reports of seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries and the journals of intrepid French explorers. Digitized works have been especially important when I teach a night class, as many of our "non-traditional" students do not have large blocks of time to travel to far-flung libraries. Nevertheless, they can complete interesting, thoroughly researched projects by using these more accessible resources.

The on-line availability of primary sources and other resources for the French colonies in North America make it easy for English-language scholars and teachers to incorporate some aspect of this history into classes on American, French, and European history. These sources and themes represent the wave of the future in our profession and will enrich our understanding and practice of history.

A list of online sources and resources for the French colonies in North America. Compiled by Sara Chapman.

Early French Settlements in North America (1500s-early 1600s) along the Saint Lawrence River seaway and the Great Lakes

Champlain, Samuel de. The Works of Samuel de Champlain. 6 vols. Edited by Henry Percival Biggar. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1922-36. Available:

Lescarbot, Marc. The History of New France. Translated and edited by W. L. Grant, 1907-14. Reprint. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968. Available on-line through Early Canadiana Online

The Jesuit Relations. Available on-line through

Later settlements: Louis XlV's reign (1660s-1680s)

Allouez, Jean Claude. "Father Allouez's Journey to Lake Superior, 1665-1667." In Early Narratives of the Northwest: 1634-1699, edited by Louise Phelps Kellogg. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1945. Available:

Duluth, Daniel Graysolon. Memoir on the Sioux Country,1678-1682. In Early Narratives of the Northwest: 1634-1699, edited by Louise Phelps Kellogg. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1945. * Also available:

Hennepin, Louis. A New Discovery of a Vast Country. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1903. Available:

Hennepin, Louis. Narrative of the Voyage to the Upper Mississippi by Father Louis Hennepin. Springfield: Illinois Historical Society, 1903. Available: search catalog for digital copy

Lahontan, Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de. New Voyages to North America. 2 vols. London: Bonwicke, 1703. Available online through Early Canadiana Online

Lalemont, Jerome. "Journey of Raymbault and Joques to the Sault." In Early Narratives of the Northwest: 1634-1699, edited by Louise Phelps Kellogg. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1945. Available:

La Potherie, Claude Charles Le Roy de, "Adventures of Nicolas Perrot (1668-1738)" In Early Narratives of the Northwest: 1634-1699, edited by Louise Phelps Kellogg. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1945. * Also available at

Nicolas, Louis. Codex Canadiensis. Manuscript collection. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK.

Peyser, Joseph and Jose Antonio Brandao, editors and translators. Edge of Empire: Documents of Michilimackinac, 1671-1716. (East Lansing: Michigan University Pr., 2008. (In Kresge Library)

Other on-line scholarly resources for the History of the French in North America

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Comprehensive biographical dictionary for major figures of history in New France written by noted scholars who are experts in the field. Usually includes a scholarly biography.

France in America/La France en Amerique Joint collaboration between Library of Congress (US) and National Library of France. default.htm (French)

Early Canada On-line A service of the National Archives in Canada, this includes primary and secondary published works in full text.

The Champlain Society See digital collection for a wide range of journals, books, and primary sources.

The Jesuit Relations Full text copies of letters by Jesuit missionaries.

American Journeys Excerpts of accounts of early American exploration and settlement.

Center for French Colonial Studies/Centre pour l'etude du pays des Illinois. department_site/cfcs/

French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan Website has articles published in their journal and other information, especially for genealogical research.

HST 495: Capstone in European History (4 credits): French Colonies in North America

Professor Sara Chapman

Oakland University

College of Arts and Sciences

Department of History

Catalog Description: In this capstone course students investigate topics in European history in a seminar setting. Under the guidance of the faculty leader, substantive issues, research techniques and historiographical problems will be considered as the student prepares a research paper to be submitted at the conclusion of the course.

Course Objective: Students will produce an original research paper, based on primary and secondary sources. Research topics and questions must be tied to the history of French explorations and colonies in North America or "New France" from the 1500s to the loss of the territories as a result of defeat in the Seven Years' War(1756-1763). Course readings, discussions, and assignments will provide the practical, theoretical, methodological, and historiographical background for students to complete the project.

Class discussion and participation: The first half of the course will consist of seminar-style discussions of assigned readings. These readings and the discussions provide essential background information you will need to complete the individual research projects.

Research Practicum: Students will be required to turn these assignments on the dates indicated on the syllabus below. These allow me to give feedback on research projects throughout the semester and assess progress.

Final Research Paper: "Grading Criteria for Capstone Papers," found on the course website, outlines the specific guidelines used to evaluate the draft and final papers. Students must get the instructor's approval in writing, of their chosen topic for the paper. The research paper should have a clearly stated, original main thesis or argument, historiographic overview (literature review), and supporting material from primary and secondary sources. Research papers will be graded on the basis of content (strength of argument, use of sources, treatment of themes, historiographic overview) and mechanics (organization, clarity, grammar, punctuation and spelling).

Required books for the course:

W.J. Eccles, The Canadian Frontier, 1534-1760 (University of New Mexico Press, 1969 or 1983)

Richard White, The Middle Ground (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

Allan Greer, The People of New France (University of Toronto, 1997)

Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historians (Prentice Hall, 2009)

William Kelleher Storey, Writing History: A Guide for Students (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Kate Turabian, ed., A Manual For Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th edition (University of Chicago, 2007)

Final grade for the course:
Discussion and participation in seminar    20%
Citation Quiz &Research Practicum 1-8      30%
Final Draft of Research Paper              50%

TOTAL                                     100%

Schedule for course:

Week 1 Introduction to course and course resources

Week 2 TARGET FOR PAPER: Explore possible topics and research questions.


"Traditional" Political History of New France:

Eccles, The Canadian Frontier, chapters 1-6 (copy on reserve at Kresge and available as electronic book at Kresge)


Gilderhus, History and Historians, chapters 1-4

Research methods:

"Possible Primary Sources for French Colonies in North America"

Week 3 TARGET FOR PAPER: Explore possible topics, research questions, and primary sources


"Traditional" Political History of New France Eccles, The Canadian Frontier, chapters 7 and 8


Gilderhus, History and Historians, chapters 5-7

Primary Sources:

The Jesuit Relations, "On the Manner of Living Among the Christians of Sillery" chapter 4, found online at Lahontan, New Voyages to North America, read letter XVI, pages 104-110 found at

Research methods:

"How to Read a Primary Source"

Storey, Writing History, chapter 1

Turabian, A Manual for Writers, chapters 1 and 2

Week 4 TARGET FOR PAPER: Narrow in on topic and possible research questions for topic; explore possible primary source to be used for project.

A "Social" History of New France:

Greer, People of New France, introduction through epilogue (whole book)

Research methods:

Storey, Writing History, chapter 2

Turabian, A Manual for Writers, chapters 3,16 and 17


Research Practicum 1: Topic, possible research questions, and official search terms

Take-home Citations Quiz, complete, print out, and turn in at start of class

Week 5 TARGET FOR PAPER: Identify primary source(s) to be used, do initial analysis of it. Compile bibliography for secondary sources.


History of Native Americans and New France: The "Traditional" Approach

Francis Parkman, "Introduction," "The Hurons," "The Iroquois" (excerpts)

Francis Jennings, "Francis Parkman: A Brahmin among Untouchables" The William and Mary Quarterly 42:3 (July 1985): 306-328.

Research methods:

Storey, Writing History, chapter 3

Turabian, A Manual for Writers chapters 4 and 5


Research Practicum 2: Primary source review and analysis

Week 6 TARGET FOR PAPER: Finalize bibliography for secondary sources. Submit ILL requests and visit libraries. Begin reading most important secondary sources.


History of Native Americans and New France: The New "Cultural" History

White, The Middle Ground, chapters 1 and 2 Sleeper-Smith, "Women, Kin, and Catholicism: New Perspectives on the Fur Trade," Ethnohistory 47:2 (2000): 423-452

Research methods:

Storey, Writing History, chapters 4, 5, 6, 7

Turabian, A Manual for Writers, chapters 6 and 7


Research Practicum 3: Revised Research Question and Bibliography

Week 7: TARGET FOR PAPER: Continue reading and note taking in secondary sources. Narrow and refine research problem/thesis. Organize notes and ideas for historiography (literature review). Submit last ILL requests and visit other libraries. Write working outline for body of paper.


Research methods:

Storey, Writing History, chapters 8 and 9

Turabian, A Manual for Writers, chapters 9 and 10


Research Practicum 4: Paper Outline

Research Practicum 5: Historiography Grid

Week 8: TARGET FOR PAPER: Finish reading and note taking on secondary sources. Draft historiography section (literature review). Start writing body of paper.


Research Practicum 6: Historiography Essay

Week 9: TARGET FOR PAPER: Reading and note taking should be done. Write body of paper.

Week 10: TARGET FOR PAPER: Have fully completed paper


First Draft Due: Turn in two copies

Week 11 TARGET FOR PAPER: Begin edits and revisions of paper.


Research Practicum 7: Peer Review

Week 12 TARGET FOR PAPER: Edit and revise paper in light of peer reviews and professor feedback.


Second draft due: Turn in one copy

Week 13 TARGET FOR PAPER: Make final edits with attention to details for final polished version.

Week 14: Turn in final draft of paper

Sara Chapman

Oakland University
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Title Annotation:WHB Focus Issue & Teaching Forum
Author:Chapman, Sara
Publication:World History Bulletin
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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