Atlantic History New France and Louisiana
by
Geoffrey Plank
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0042

Introduction

The colonies France founded on the mainland of North America in the 17th century—Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana—have rich, distinctive literatures. A growing scholarly literature over the last twenty years or so has also deepened our knowledge of the 18th-century French colonies of Ile Royale, on Cape Breton Island, and Illinois. By contrast, the failed 16th-century Huguenot colony of Caroline and the French outpost at Placentia, on Newfoundland, have not received the attention they deserve. In contrast to Britain’s North American empire, France’s colonies are rarely discussed as a group, and French imperial history in the 17th and 18th centuries remains a field in the making. Among American and British scholars, two features of France’s colonial experience in North America garner the most attention: the foundations of the peculiar racial politics of Louisiana, and relations between Native Americans and the French in the Great Lakes region.

General Overviews

Perhaps the longest-standing scholarly debate about France’s American colonies revolves around the question of whether French culture produced a distinctive style of imperialism. Seed 1995 is the most influential recent assertion that the French approached colonization differently as a consequence of their Old World cultural inheritance. Aubert 2004 similarly emphasizes the transatlantic transmission of old French ideas. Banks 2002 and Pritchard 2004 suggest, by contrast, that the difficulty of communication and the challenges of the local environments sent the various French colonies on divergent trajectories. Eccles 1990 is an admirably succinct and accessible overview of France’s North American empire. Mathieu 2001 provides an overview from a geographical perspective. Havard and Vidal 2003 is much more detailed and enriched by recent scholarship. Berthiaume 1990 examines the French North American empire through its travel literature.

  • Aubert, Guillaume. “The Blood of France: Race and Purity of Blood in the French Atlantic World.” William and Mary Quarterly 61.3 (2004): 439–478.

    DOI: 10.2307/3491805E-mail Citation »

    Challenging long-standing, common assumptions that the French had a more fluid understanding of race than did the Spanish or the English, Aubert argues that colonists in New France and Louisiana brought with them from their home country a hierarchical ideology based on “purity of blood.”

  • Banks, Kenneth J. Chasing Empire across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713–1763. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this study of French colonial political culture, Banks emphasizes the distance between France and its colonies in Canada, Louisiana, and the Caribbean, and the inability of the French state to direct policy on the other side of the Atlantic.

  • Berthiaume, Pierre. L’aventure américaine au XVIIIe siècle: Du voyage à l’écriture. Cahiers du Centre de Recherche en Civilisation Canadienne-Française 27. Ottawa, ON: Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    Berthiaume examines France’s American colonial project through the lens of travel literature.

  • Eccles, W. J. France in America. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although his work is now dated, Eccles provides an account of French imperialism that is unusually accessible to Anglo-American readers. Eccles devotes most of his attention to Canada, but he discusses Louisiana and France’s colonies in the West Indies as well.

  • Havard, Gilles, and Cécile Vidal. Histoire de l’Amérique française. Paris: Flammarion, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    French historians Havard and Vidal provide the most comprehensive, up-to-date survey available of France’s North American imperial ventures, with the greatest attention paid to Canada.

  • Mathieu, Jacques. La Nouvelle-France: Les Français en Amérique du Nord, XVI–XVIIIe siècle. 2d ed. Sainte Foy, QC: Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Mathieu surveys France’s North American empire from a geographical perspective.

  • Pritchard, James. In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670–1730. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511808555E-mail Citation »

    Examining the French empire across a wide terrain, including the Caribbean, Louisiana, and Canada, Pritchard details the social and political forces that drove the various French colonies along sharply divergent historical trajectories.

  • Seed, Patricia. Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    With separate discussions of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch imperialism, Seed argues that the European colonial powers brought to the Americas distinctive understandings of the roots of authority. The author suggests that the French arrived already believing that they would have to conduct elaborate rituals dramatizing the indigenous peoples’ support for the French king.

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