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France in America—La France en Amérique
Library of Congress and Bibliothèque nationale de France
The result of a joint venture between the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, this fully bilingual digital project documents the role of France in American history from the colonial era through the nineteenth century. The site is part of the Library of Congress’s “Global Gateway” initiative in collaborative digital ventures with other national archives, currently involving libraries in Spain, Brazil, Russia, and the Netherlands.
“France in America” has two phases. The first, now online, covers the history of New France, French involvement in exploring and colonizing a North American empire, and the French role in events “which indelibly marked the history of the United States: the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Louisiana Purchase.” A second phase, to be developed over the course of 2006, will focus on nineteenth-century relations between the two countries, with an emphasis on “trade, immigration, scientific exchange, and literature and the arts.”
The material is organized into several themes, such as “Exploration and Knowledge,” “Imperial Struggles,” and “Franco-Indian Alliances.” Each section has links to illustrative documents, including complete books and prints. Clicking on “Alliances,” for example, and going to the subheading of “To ‘Civilize’ and Convert” reveals a contextual introduction and two primary sources, including Jesuit missionary Paul Le Jeune’s 342-page Relation for the year 1634. Documents relating to mixed-race unions, or métissage, appear under the “Cohabitation” heading. There is also a chronological table, neatly organized into events in France and events in America, the latter of which are further subdivided according to explorations, colonization, and conflicts and diplomacy.
Explanatory materials and helpful links for online research abound. There are descriptive maps—easily understandable maps, like those found in textbooks, which delineate political boundaries and main Indian groups—as well as contemporary maps generated by explorers and cartographers. Under “About the site,” visitors can find recommendations for further reading as well as a valuable list of links. These include one to a fully searchable English translation of the multivolume Jesuit Relations.
The project directors also recommend two other important sites “dedicated to the shared history of France and North America”: the French Ministry of Culture’s “La Louisiane française, 1682-1803” and a collaborative French-Canadian site, “Nouvelle-France, horizons nouveau”. Both are visually appealing, with attractive flash elements involving maps, abundant primary-source materials, and images; the French-Canadian site is bilingual.
A visitor to “France in America” will be impressed by a key aspect of the institutional partnership: access to huge collections. In the introductory information regarding the French companion site, “La France en Amérique”, the reader learns that Gallica, the Website of the Bibliothèque nationale, has “76 thousand digitized texts and 80 thousand images to date.”
Clearly, the bicentennial commemorations of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark voyage have contributed to renewed interest in the history of Franco-American relations. For researchers, students, and anyone else inclined to pursue that interest, “France in America” is an excellent place to start.
This article originally appeared in issue 6.2 (January, 2006).