PORTLAND- A special tour of the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine gave the Franco-American Collection’s Board, and friends an opportunity to learn about Samuel de Champlain’s artistic cartography and his writings.
A value added surprise was when those of us on the tour learned about the Osher’s copy of Les Voyages, one of Champlain’s books. The Franco-American Collection is located in the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College. Those of us who participated in the Osher tour came from Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon, Portland and Topsham, as well as guests from out of state.
Champlain (1567-1635) is the Father of New France (Quebec) and of Acadia (Saint Croix Island). He was a French colonial explorer, a settler in Quebec, a navigator, cartographer, draftsman, soldier, explorer, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler. In fact, Champlain created the first accurate coastal North American map during his explorations of New France. Champlain was the first European to describe the Great Lakes. He published popular maps describing his journeys and accounts about what he learned from the native Indian tribes. In the Osher collection at USM are several of Champlain’s maps. Along with the maps displayed by Professor Libby Bischof, who led the tour, we also saw and thumbed through Champlain’s book, “Les Voyages“, published in the early 17th century. Champlain’s book is among the rare books in the Osher Map Library collection.
Included in the well preserved rare book’s pages, printed in French cursive, are several fold out pages containing drawings, giving more substance to Champlain’s many experiences as an explorer and navigator.
Subsequently, I was able to find a historian’s overview about Les Voyages, in the excellent biography, “Champlain’s Dream“, page 434, by David Hackett Fischer. In his summary, Fischer reports about how the book reflected Champlain’s humanitarian values and projected his vision for New France.
A major purpose of Champlain’s Les Voyages was to promote his grand design for New France in the French court of Louis XIII (1610-1643).
But, another goal was to establish the legitimacy of France’s clam to North America. It was also a tale of troubles, many of them caused by the lack of strong and stable support from companies associated with the court. (In this argument, Fischer says that Champlain was treading on “dangerous ground”, but none of his criticisms were personal attacks.) In Les Voyages, the Champlain narrative described detailed accounts about all of his major voyages, from 1603 to 1629. Moreover, the book promoted the importance of discovery, and emphasized the exploration and settlement of North America on behalf of France.
Probably, the subject of interest that continues to draw popular attention to Les Voyages today are the descriptions about the American Indians, who Champlain described in great detail.
Fischer wrote, “Most of (Champlain’s) writing was very sympathetic to them (the Native tribes) and showed a sustained interest in their culture. He stressed the importance of converting the Indians to Christianity, celebrated their intelligence and validated the Indians as human beings. Here again, a central part of his vision was an expansive idea of humanity that embraced the people of Europe and America. His book was a sustained appeal for that principle.”
In 1632, Champlain published a map of New France, one of his many navigational charts.
Indeed, a tour of the Osher Map Library is an informative and excellent opportunity to view the many books and documents in this impressive collection. Contact for the Osher Map Library is at this site: https://oshermaps.org/contact-us
Many thanks to David Nutty, the director of libraries, and the University of Southern Maine’s librarian and Professor Libby Bischof for coordinating this excellent tour for the Franco-American Collection’s Board of Directors.