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James Pritchard

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The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize

2005

James Pritchard. In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730. (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Between 1670 and 1730 the French developed at least fourteen colonies in the Americas–Grenada, Martinique, Marie Galante, Guadeloupe, Saint-Christophe, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Croix, Saint-Domingue, Louisiana-Illinois, Canada, Acadia, Placentia-Île Royale, and Cayenne (Guiana). Spread over thousands of miles, with vastly different climates and populations, an empire of such size was stunning in its ambition, and impossible to administer, defend, and develop. And that is the point of this sweeping synthesis covering early occupation and settlement of the French empire in America as a whole. The early French empire in America was incoherent, frequently undefended, very sparsely settled, haphazardly governed, and generally hit-and-miss. James Pritchard focuses less on empire as the triumphant assertion of civilization, and more on empire as the unfulfilled desire of vaunting metropolitan ambition.
Dealing particularly with population, commerce, inter-ethnic relations, and imperial naval defense (or lack of it), Pritchard provides thoughtful narrative and analysis, based on massive research. His overall argument is that people made colonial societies, not governments, and that the current “genes, germs, and geography” school of imperial studies and first contact with the Americas is a fad. As late as 1730 the French empire in America was barely real, but the new identities formed by the encounter of European, Indigenous, and African people were authentic, distinct from each other, and capable of long duration. Roughly half the book follows the rarely successful efforts of France to provide military defense for the colonies. Built on extensive collation of data from often contradictory sources, Pritchard’s book provides many sensible revisionist perspectives. An antidote to any persistent tendency to glorify empire, Pritchard shows that the true legacy of an almost dysfunctional French empire was the new cultures and human societies it engendered.

Honourable Mentions:
Dominique DeslandresCroire et faire croire. Les missions françaises au XVIIe siècle (1600-1650). (Paris, Fayard, 2003)
Understanding proselytizing and the mechanics of faith is the enormous challenge that Dominique Deslandres has broached successfully in the disciplined synthesis that has been dedicated to the domestic and colonial missions of 17th-century France. Conversion missions, desired and put in place by the king and the church, were carried out on several fronts, from America to the Far East, for salvation knows no bounds. At the same time, of course, missions were working with the baptized idolators of France. In both cases, the missions sought to open the heathen, whoever they might be (Iroquois or Breton), to the Christian faith, by using every available rhetorical strategy. Missions found themselves at the complex and often paradoxical intersections of the discovery of the Other and enforced conversion, gentle and inviting words and terrifying talk of damnation, and whether in France or America, for a number of religious orders, represented the ultimate sacrifice of holy work offered to Christ.
Dominique Deslandres chose to give a lengthy explanation of the French context the theory of tridentine reform, the practice of the domestic missions before exposing the harsh Christianization of the Indians of New France, a successful methodological choice that presents a clear context for the work of this army of Christ in America. By drawing attention to the protestant missions too often neglected by traditional history, by explaining the writings of the theoreticians as well as the practitioners in the missions, by revealing with eloquence and discipline the cultural shocks experienced by the missionaries and their flocks, the author weaves in overlapping and often contradictory sources a factual framework that reveals transformations, and in which successes and defeats appear and are interpreted. Accompanied by archival records, maps and illustrations that augment the perspectives of analysis, Croire et faire croire introduces the historiography of the missions through an original discussion of the Other in a clear and rich book that is indispensable to researchers in religious and colonial history.

Robert VentrescaFrom Fascism to Democracy: Culture and Politics in the Italian Election of 1948. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)
The Italian election of 18 April 1948 was the defining moment in Italys transition from a fascist state to a democratic republic. More than 90 percent of the eligible electors cast their votes, a majority for the centre-right Christian Democrats. To many observers the results were surprising, as the Popular Front, made up of the Socialist and Communist Parties which had dominated politics since the fall of Mussolini, had expected to win. The left blamed American and Catholic Church intervention for its defeat. Almost half the electorate was disaffected by the outcome. The tradition of forming unstable centre-right governments and of voting Communist to protest the general nature of Italian politics became firmly established.
While earlier studies stress the political nature of the event, Ventresca analyses it as a cultural artifact. Using a combination of synthesis of existing works, original research, and the techniques of political, religious, diplomatic and cultural history, he has written a total history of the 1948 election. He considers the event from the top down and, more impressively, from the bottom up; he takes into account social and psychological factors not previously examined. A central chapter analyses the appeal to localized religion and to popular piety by Catholic forces and the significance of numerous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the faithful during the pre-election campaign. But in this study the election outcome and its long-term legacy are not something that happened to Italians. Rather, it was ordinary voters themselves who determined the results of the election and the nature of Italian political culture for decades to come. Italians may despise their politics, but they also live them with passion, a consideration which helps to explain the tenacity and durability of the Italian political system.