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Further update on relocation plans: August closure dates


SHentranceTo facilitate the IHR’s return to the Senate House north block, it has now been confirmed that the library will close from Saturday 16th August to Saturday 30th August inclusive. Room bookings during this time will be unaffected.

We plan to reopen in the north block on Monday 1st September but please check the IHR website and blog for updates nearer the time.

We apologise for any disruption caused during the move, but look forward to welcoming you to the refurbished IHR. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to staff in the library enquiry office in the first instance, or contact us on or 020 7862 8760.

H. P. Biggar and Canadian history at the IHR


Biggar book plateFollowing on from last week’s launch of the library’s bequests webpage and in keeping with recent blog posts about our Canadian holdings, the IHR would like to take the opportunity to highlight a few examples of historic donations to our North American collections. The Institute’s extensive  resources relating to the early history of Canada came into existence as a result of several large bequests and donations from private donors and public bodies during the 1920s and 30s. Of these donors, H.P. Biggar stands out for his efforts to promote Canadian studies at the IHR and in London more generally.

The Biggar Collection

Henry Percival Biggar (1872-1938) served as the European representative of  the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa during the first three decades of the 20th century. While in Europe he received a doctorate in history at Oxford and published several titles on European exploration in North America including The voyages of the Cabots (Paris, 1903), The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (Ottawa, 1924) and The Works of Samuel de Champlain (Toronto, 1922-1936).

Biggar was central to the acquisition campaign for the Public Archives and later participated in the organization of historical manuscripts in the national collection, a project he wrote about at length in the first two volumes of the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research. From 1905 he served as the European representative of the Department of Canadian Archives, a position he occupied until his death in 1938. He was instrumental in the founding of the Canadian Historical Society in 1922 and served as its first secretary. As secretary he oversaw the transcription of important manuscripts relevant to the early history of Canada held in Parisian and London archives for deposition in the Public Archives of Canada. Biggar was also an activist for Canadian and imperial charities in the capital, serving as the National Commissioner of the Canadian Red Cross Society during the early years of the Depression.

From 1921 onwards Biggar donated books from his personal library to the IHR. As a result, a number of the Colonial Collection’s strengths reflect his research interests in the areas of early European exploration of North America and the history of New France before the British conquest of 1759/60. Biggar’s largest donations of books and pamphlets arrived in the IHR over the course of the summer of 1926 and the winter of 1927.  In 1938, the IHR library committee valued the Biggar Library, then consisting of 562 volumes and 256 pamphlets, at £950.

The Canadian Lectureship Fund Acquisitions

Throughout his years in London Biggar tirelessly promoted the professionalization and study of Canadian history in the UK. In 1926 he organized a fund to endow a lectureship in Canadian History at the University of London. Sadly, he was unable to collect enough money for a lectureship endowment before his death. The money raised for that purpose, however, did enable the IHR to significantly expand its colonial history holdings. In 1932 Biggar stipulated that the interest from the lectureship fund, then standing at £600, be used by the IHR library committee to ‘buy books to be presented to the Canadian section of the Institute library’. Many of the library’s holdings in the area of European exploration in North America were purchased through the Canadian Lectureship Fund including, for example, Paul Gaffarel’s, Histoire de la découverte de l’Amérique, 2 vols (Paris, 1892)and Henry Murphy’s The Voyage of Verrazzano (New York, 1870). Perhaps the most substantial additions to the library purchased under the aegis of the Lectureship fund were the initial two dozen volumes of the Rapport des Archives du Quebec series.

Provenance in the Biggar Collection

  • A presentation copy of Joseph-Guillaume Barthe’s (1816-1893) Le Canada Reconquis par la France (Paris, 1855) presented to the French illustrator and student of Delacroix, Maurice Sand (1823-1889) includes a letter from the author bound among the front flyleaves of the book. It is dated Quebec, 15 September 1867 and discusses a meeting between Barthe and Sand in Paris in 1861. La Canada Reconquis par la France argues for renewed French immigration to Quebec in order to rejuvenate French Canadian language and culture. [1]
  • The first volume of the  IHR copy of Etienne Michel Faillon’s Histoire de la Colonie Francaise in Canada contains a long citation from the work in Biggar’s hand. It also contains a letter, bound among the front leaves, with information about the book.
  • The library holds several books purchased by Biggar during his time as a student in Paris in the 1880s. Biggar recorded the location and year of purchase on the front flyleaves of many of these books including Leon Deschamps’s Un colonisateur du Temps de Richelieu, Isaac de Razilly (Paris, 1887) and Pierre Boucher’s Canada in the Seventeenth Century (Montreal, 1883).

[1] For more information on Barthe see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Biography – BARTHE, JOSEPH-GUILLAUME – Volume XII (1891-1900) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography

“The Great War at Home”: a Senate House Library Perspective


Illustration: F.S. Brereton, With our Russian Allies (1916)

Illustration: F.S. Brereton, With our Russian Allies (1916)

This post was written for us by Karen Attar from Senate House Library Special Collections.

The conference “The Great War at Home” supplied an excellent opportunity for Senate House Library to provide a small complementary display. The only problem was how best to use a limited space. To the extent that we had a focus, that focus was publishing, and within the theme of publishing, Oxford University Press – especially timely in so far as a new History of Oxford University Press was published last year. In August 1914 seven members of the Modern History Faculty of the University of Oxford promptly set to and wrote Why We Are At War: Great Britain’s Case, in order to set forth the causes of war and the principles they believed to be at stake. This was the first of 87 OUP “pamphlets” about the War, although with 206 pages there was little of the pamphlet about it.

The Delegates of Oxford University Press approved the book’s publication on 16 October 1914, at their first meeting of the new academic year – by which time it was already in its third edition, the one displayed. The copy shown is from a collection of about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the War brought together by the pacifist historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne (1857-1948) in connection with the books she wrote about the conflict. The other OUP book shown is homage to Shakespeare for the tercentenary celebration of his birth: evidence of the continuation, albeit in severely limited form, of academic publishing during the war.

Children’s adventure stories set against the backdrop of the Great War and stereotypically full of valiant English youths and cowardly, underhand Germans, some of them spies, give insight into how in an unrealistic form the war pervaded children’s consciousness. An example of such literature was also displayed, With our Russian Allies by the extremely popular Frederick Sadleir Brereton.

All of these are examples of “The Great War in England”. We interpreted “home” more narrowly with Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, commemorating the losses in war of members of the University of London Officers Training Corps: seven officers and some 670 cadets.

In previous years Senate House Library’s contribution to the Anglo-American Conference of Historians has been purely to curate a display. This year the topic enabled the Library to give a conference paper, again seeing “home” as the host institution of the conference. Karen Attar, who had previously delved into the history of the Library during the Second World War, extended her researches backwards to the period 1914-1918 to talk about the University of London Library then. Documentary evidence is sparse compared with that for the Second World War, so that an initial fear was of not finding enough to say. There was no need to worry, and a twenty-minute talk expanded to fit forty minutes. Several interesting points emerged in the course of preliminary reading, such as better air raid precautions for the First World War than for the Second, and a suggestion that books would be safer on the central University’s premises in London than in Cambridge.

Narratives of Occupation: Belgium 1914-1918


Mercredi 14 avril 1915
Rue de la Régence, deux petites filles sautaient à la corde en chantant La Marseillaise. Des officiers allemands passèrent, entendirent, regardèrent…et sourirent. Et les deux petites continuèrent sans se douter qu’elles risquaient dex ans de prison!

[Wednesday, 14th April 1915
Rue de la Régence, two young girls were skipping rope singing La Marseillaise. Some German officers passed by, heard, watched…and smiled. And the two little girls continued without suspecting that they risked two years in prison!]

So wrote the Brussels-based journalist, play-wright and author Paul Max (1884-1944). His is one of many voices which can be found among the collections of the IHR library, which illustrate the varied reactions, both within government and society at large, to the German Empire’s occupation of Belgium from August 1914 to November 1918.

Initially Max’s account of life in Brussels is filled not only with vignettes of the German presence (as one might expect) but also more pleasant aspects, a trip to the theatre (13th March, 1915) or a day playing bowls (26th May 1915). Unfortunately, these types of entries are seldom made as the diary progresses with accounts of air raids (the 7th June 1915, the 7th September 1916 and the 27th September 1916, for example), swift arrests (22nd June 1915), rising prices and economic deprivation (1st February 1917, 8th November 1917, 15th October 1918) becoming the norm.


The diary of Constance Graeffe (1874-1950) also documents life in occupied Brussels but has a very different tone. With the knowledge that her and her German husband, Otto Graeffe, would eventually renounce their Belgian citizenship, becoming Reichsdeutschen on the 1st June 1917 one should not be too surprised that a major theme throughout her diary is the equivocation she displays between the fondness she has for Germany and the growing hostility she feels in Brussels:

I do not know how I shall bear all this feeling of hatred which pours out of every eye which rests on one, if one has the misfortune of being with any one who is German. I often wonder however that hatred will leave the Belgians? I must not think too much of all this or I would go mad. (17th June, 1915).

Her portrayal of suffering must be tempered, however, by her – almost eager – acceptance of Germany’s justification for its actions during the invasion. In the first months of the war, Graeffe would accept as fact the German explanation for its brutality during the invasion, the civilian guerrilla forces dubbed the Franc-tireurs:

…all along Belgium as the German came along…the men (not soldiers) & women & children began to shoot at them. (27th August 1914)

Mention of the Franc-tireurs is also made in other sources held by the IHR’s library, but in a very different context. The Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’invasion Allemande dans les provinces de Namur et de Luxembourg was compiled and edited in the early 1920s by the abbot of Maredous, Norbert Nieuwland and Jean Schmitz, secretary to the bishop of Namur. The eight volume work offers a comprehensive account of the invasion but paints a very different picture than either Max’s or Graeffe’s diaries. As outlined by the editors, the work sought to, ‘montrer par des témoignages de première main, quel est le régime, quels sont les traitements que l’armée allemande a fait subir à la population civil durant l’invasion’, dedicating it, ‘à la mémoire de tous morts et martyrs’ (vol. 1, xi-xii). Given this statement of intent, such incidence such as the civilian massacres at Tamines and Dinant (to name only two) are described in hundreds of accounts published in each volume.

Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz

Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz (German diplomat and administrator based in Brussels 1914-1918)

Accounts from the German perspective tend not to dwell on these horrific events. The reports and memoirs by German diplomat and head of a Politische Abteilung throughout the occupation, Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz (1867-1939) mention little of the initial invasion, giving details, instead, on the day to day concerns of the German administration such as the staunch defiance of the Belgian Cardinal Mercier (Nov. 1915-Jan. 1916, pp. 164-168 & Aug. 1916-Jan. 1917, pp. 233-236) as well as the implementation of Flamenpolitik, a policy which sought to widen societal fissures between the Flemish and Walloon population, promoting the status of the Flemish (viz. Germanic) culture over the southern Francophone Walloons (Meine dreissig Dienstjahre, pp. 211-220; see also Les archives du Conseil de Flandre).

In terms of a legacy, the noted Belgian historian, Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) saw efforts to divide Belgium through policies such as Flamenpolitik as being ultimately futile. Although we have seen even in this tiny sample opinion was far from uniform (when is it ever?), looking back and reflecting on the German administration and the Belgium that emerged after war, Pirenne would conclude in 1928

L’administration imposée par l’Allemagne à la Belgique n’était que la conséquence de la victoire. Elle devait crouler avec la défaite et elle le fit tout d’une pièce et d’un seul coup…Matériellement le pays était ruiné, moralement il restait intact. (p. 272)

[The administration imposed by Germany on Belgium was only the consequence of victory. It crumbled with defeat and it collapsed in one fell swoop…Materially the state [Belgium] was ruined, morally it remained intact.]

All the material discussed above can be found in the IHR library’s Belgian, Low Countries Local, Military and International Relations collections and notice of any future acquisitions in this subject can be found on the library pages of the IHR website.

More details of events held at the IHR, including this year’s Anglo-American Conference, The Great War at Home, can be found on the Institute’s Events page.



Graeffe, Constance. “We who are so cosmopolitan”: the war diary of Constance Graeffe, 1914-1915, ed. Sophie de Schaepdrijver.

Lancken-Wakenitz, Oscar von der. Meine dreissig Dienstjahre 1888-1918 : Potsdam-Paris-Brüssel.

Lancken-Wakenitz, Oscar von der. Gouverner en Belgique occupée : Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz – rapports d’activité 1915-1918, ed. Michaël Amara et Hubert Roland.

Max, Paul. Journal de guerre de Paul Max : notes d’un Bruxellois pendant l’occupation (1914-1918), ed. Benoît Majerus & Sven Soupart.

Pirenne, Henri. La Belgique et la Guerre Mondiale.

Raad van Vlaanderen. Les archives du Conseil de Flandre, published by the Ligue nationale pour l’unité belge.

Schmitz, Jean & Nieuwland, Norbert (eds.). Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’invasion Allemande dans les provinces de Namur et de Luxembourg.

New website section highlights IHR library’s collection history


Harrison_booksOver the spring and early summer we have been bringing together information on the history of the IHR library, and have now added a new section to the webpages which highlights the origins of some of our collections. In its early years the library was built up by actively seeking donations of books, and much of the collection was formed from bequests and gifts by individuals and organisations. They cross all sections of the library, from the many donations to the Canadian section by Henry Percival Biggar, via the large amount of local history material given by H Guy Harrison, to the controversial donation of 1937 from the German government which forms a large part of our German history collection. Special acquisition funds were created to support some collections, such as the Canadian Lectureship Fund, and in some cases donated books that were surplus to the IHR’s needs, because they were duplicates or outside the collection policy, were sold in order to boost the funds available for purchasing new material.
booksMany of the books that came to the IHR through bequests and donations carry fascinating evidence of their earlier provenance, in the form of dedications and inscriptions to individuals, earlier bindings, interesting book plates, or letters now bound into the volumes. The collection includes, for example, the beautifully bound volumes of the Vincent Wright collection, and David Douglas’s  interleaved and annotated copy of J. Horace Round’s Calendar of documents preserved in France.

We are still finding things out about these collections and will be adding to the web pages as research continues. Keep an eye out, too, for blog posts which will highlight particular items of interest. For further information on how you can support our collections please speak to the IHR development office.

New acquisitions in the IHR library


With the recent European and council elections, and anticipation building for the general election next year, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of our new material relating to politics, included on the most recent New Books Display in the library. The late great Tony Benn stands out, proudly smoking his pipe on the cover of the final volume of his renowned series of diaries, and he also features in Emily Robinson’s History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politics: past politics and present histories.

Tony Benn

Benn is widely recognised as having been one of the top political diarists of his time, and A blaze of autumn sunshine: the last diaries, published the year before his death, completes his story. Although Benn stepped down from Parliament in 2001 he remained extremely active politically, taking part in campaigns and events throughout the period covered by this volume (2007-2013). Benn intersperses accounts of his day-to-day activities, which despite his age often included very early starts to attend different demonstrations or events around the country, with commentary on political issues at the time.

Amongst other matters Benn’s entries discuss the transition between Blair and Brown and his increasing despair with the state of the Labour Party, and on a more personal level his own declining health, though he remains upbeat throughout. Benn’s daily additions to his diary, which he had kept up for an impressive sixty-nine years, came to an end in 2009 due to illness. The final four years covered by this volume are in the form of a memoir, very briefly dealing with themes and events such as the financial crisis, the coalition government, Ed Miliband’s rise to party leadership, WikiLeaks, and the growth of UKIP.

Something that consistently comes across in Benn’s writing is his awareness of history, and his use of key ideas and movements from the past to try to influence political thought in the present. He had not lost his determination to present ambitious and potentially controversial ideas, even at this late stage in his career. His description of a speech he made at the Labour Party Conference of 2007 in front of his granddaughter and eldest son, both also active in politics, demonstrates this: “Emily and Stephen heard me speak at the Labour Representation Committee, where I tried to talk about the future, and say that we had to look ahead. ‘You know I’m always talking about the Chartists and the Suffragettes. Well, look ahead – we’ve got to have the world run by global Chartists. The UN has got to be represented in a proportion to the population of the world.’ It probably sounded as mad to them as the Chartists sounded.”

Both because of his role as a politician and as a political diarist, Benn is mentioned in History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politics: past politics and present histories, in which Emily Robinson discusses the different ways British politicians use past events and political rhetoric to promote or dismiss current ideologies and policies. Alongside others, Benn’s significance as a politician with a focus on political history and its preservation is highlighted by Robinson:  “…the political memory of all three parties is perpetuated by a relatively small number of individuals, who tend to share a concern both for the preserving of contemporary documents and participant observations, and for recovering and remembering the stories of the past – usually with an intention of ‘learning from history’…There is also a great crossover between party memoirists, diarists, biographers and historians, with Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Winston Churchill being only the most obvious examples.” This is certainly reflected in our own collections, which include diaries, biographies, and historical works, by all of these figures.

Below you can find the full list of new books which feature on the current display:

New Book Display June '14 001


IHR move back to refurbished north block: August 2014


P1160305The refurbishment is going to schedule and we are expecting the move back to the Senate House north block to take place in late August, to coincide with the period when the Institute of Classical Studies closes (16th - 30th August). There will be some disruption to services during this time, and we expect the library to be closed for a minimum of 5 days while the books are moved. You are advised to avoid planning visits during this period. We look forward to welcoming you to the refurbished Institute by early September.

Further details will be announced shortly, but if you have any questions or concerns, please talk to staff in the library enquiry office in the first instance, or contact us on or 020 7862 8760

Canadian Immigration and Settler Narratives


200514-3Welcome to the latest blog post detailing the Canadian collections at the IHR. In this installment we explore the wide variety of sources available in the library for the study of Canadian immigration history.  Throughout the nineteenth century publishers and booksellers in London printed almanacs and handbooks in order to seduce travelers and emigrants to Canada. Several examples of these guides dating from the middle decades of the 19th century survive in the IHR’s colonial holdings.  Smith’s Canadian Gazette (London: W.H. Smith, 1846) is a directory of “desirable and useful information for the man of business, traveler, or emigrant” including distances between towns in the Canadian interior and listings of Crown Lands then on the market. It also includes detailed fold-out maps. Henry Chesshyre’s Canada, A Hand Book for Settlers (London, 1864) is more propagandistic in nature and includes a list of 10 reasons to emigrate (including its accessibility and proximity to the UK) as well as advice on how to construct settlements and trap wild animals. Another handbook, S. W. Silver’s Handbook to Canada: A guide for Travellers and Settlers (London, 1881) contains detailed histories of the locations it describes as well as useful economic information including mining and trade figures.

The library continues to grow its collection of published correspondence and settler journals composed by European immigrants to western Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries. These sources were written by men and women of different social backgrounds and often focus on the hardships of life in frontier communities, particularly during the winter months.  The letters of English immigrant Catherine Parr Stickland Traill (1802-1899), collected under the title Canada and the Oregon: the backwoods of Canada (London, 1849), document life in provincial Ontario on the eve of the Upper Canada Rebellion (1837). Traill wrote extensively about her new country including observations of its people, the land, and the seasonal extremes in climate. Traill landed in Montreal in 1832 shortly after the outbreak of a devastating cholera epidemic in which the city’s poor immigrants were especially hard hit. Traill’s reflections upon the potential fate of her less fortunate shipmates stand in stark contradiction to the optimistic image of British America found in contemporary emigrant handbooks. On the streets of Quebec and Montreal,  Traill noted, ”meet together the unfortunate, the improvident, the helpless orphan, the sick, the aged, the poor virtuous man, driven by the stern hand of necessity from his country and his home, perhaps to be overtaken by sickness or want in a land of strangers” (37).


Map in ‘Smith’s Canadian Gazette’

Like Catherine Traill’s letters, many of the early published journals and personal diaries housed in the library record the authors’ impressions of Canadian cities, the American landscape and the customs of the continent’s native inhabitants. James Colnett’s (1753-1806) late 18th-century diaries of his fur trading voyages to Vancouver Island are among the earliest English descriptions of the land and people of the Pacific Northwest. Colnett is notable for having accompanied Captain James Cook on his Pacific voyages. Nova Scotia-born surveyor George Mercer Dawson (1849-1901) recorded his observations of the flora, fauna and geology of the Rocky Mountains while on a surveying mission for the Canadian government in 1883/84.

Other letter collections and journals written by immigrants and settlers include :

The library houses many sources relevant to the study of ethnicity and immigration to Canada. These sources include a wide selection of passenger lists from ships sailing between British ports and North America. These lists often indicate the ethnicity of passengers on-board, either explicitly, as in the case of many American sources from the late 18th century onwards in which the nationality of passengers is listed alongside their names, or implicitly (e.g. ethnic background as suggested by the listed surname and port of origin). The IHR collections also contain studies of ethnic identity among immigrant groups in modern Canada, as well as source collections of letters in which immigrants discuss the often painful process of adaption to life in their new country.

Scottish immigration resources, including ship registers and biographical dictionaries of early migrants, are well represented in the Canadian holdings.


‘Business as usual’: School life in Britain during the Great War


The IHR library has an outstanding collection of university and school records. Following on the theme of this year’s Anglo-American conference, we’ve been looking at what they contain about the First World War. School registers often have lists of teachers and former pupils who served or were killed in the war. School histories and journals include more descriptive accounts, and there are some vivid records, sometimes poignant, but mostly emphasising how schools attempted to continue as usual.

school war serviceSeveral describe how school playing fields were ploughed up to be used as allotments worked on by the pupils: at St Peter’s School in York a ‘vegetable committee’ was formed (Raine, A., History of St Peter’s School, York, p.189). In A History of Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School, we read how the congested state of the railways made it difficult to get equipment and books (p. 69). Availability of food is often an issue – Records (1909-1992) of the Ramsgate County School for Boys gives praise to Mrs Read: “the fact that we were able to have.. any dinners at all was largely due to the way she managed to secure food-stuffs in unorthodox ways” (p. 115).

The stress caused by the threat of air raids is a recurrent theme. Air raid shelters were created in cellars and cloakrooms and under school lawns. History of St Peter’s School tells of Zeppelin attacks in York and a boy being injured by shrapnel (p.189). At Ramsgate County School for Boys, a bomb fell on the tennis court, demolishing a summer house and breaking windows (p.100). In general people coped, and school life continued, though classes started a little late the morning after a raid (p.113).

The Book of the Blackheath High School gives two first-hand accounts by former pupils. The war affected not only the girls’ daily life at school but also their attitudes to the role of women in the future. At a school speech day, the Bishop of Woolwich said “Now.. is women’s chance to use wisely and well the great force and power of work of which this War has shewn them to be possessed” (p.170).

The girls were keen to help with war work. A former sixth former describes how “It was difficult to read for the University when one was consumed by a desire to go out and do something of immediate use..”, but “well-equipped women would be needed in the post-war future, so we stayed on” (p.171). One girl was called up for service in France and “was seen off by an admiring and envious crowd of seniors who could have given all they possessed to have been going too” (p. 172).

School diary

Girls at the school helped out in their own time by working in allotments, canteens, and factories, packing parcels, and doing Red Cross work. Sixth formers knitted under the table to be “safe from the eyes of the Head and the Staff, who discouraged that mixture of fervid patriotism and intermittent reading which is apt to result in a low place on university scholarship lists” (p.172). Again, the “unchanged and steady way in which the life of the school went on” is emphasised. A younger pupil described school life as a relief from the troubles of the outside world (p. 176-7).

Other school histories recount the departure of male teachers to serve in the war and the arrival of female replacements, the activities of the officer training corps, war savings work, and the planning of memorials for former pupils and masters.

The material can be found in the Biographical section of the British collection. School records are also located in the record society series within the Scottish, Welsh and English local history sections.


The Ursulines and Jesuits of New France


Welcome to the introductory entry in a series of blog posts aiming to promote the rich North American collections at the IHR library. This month we focus on the highlights from our often overlooked Canadian holdings beginning with a selection of four works published before the British conquest of Canada in 1759/60. These books, all printed in France between 1681 and 1751, detail the early history of New France as well as the lives of several figures central to the establishment of the early religious and charitable institutions of 17th-century Quebec.

Marie de l’Incarnation (Marie Guyart), 1599-1672. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Marie de l’Incarnation (Marie Guyart), 1599-1672. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The first - and rarest – of the four is a 1681 Paris edition of Marie Guyart’s Lettres de la Venerable Mere Marie de L’Incarnation. It is one of two copies of this book housed in UK libraries (the other is held in the national collection at the British Library). The work is a collection of letters written by Marie Guyart (1599-1672) the first Mother Superior of the Ursuline Convent of Quebec. Born into an aristocratic family and widowed at 19, Guyart devoted her adult life to the service of the Catholic Church, becoming a member of the Ursuline Order of Tours in 1633. In 1639, Guyart, now Marie de L’Incarnation following her ordination as a nun, sailed to Quebec with several companions in order to reinforce the missionary efforts of the Jesuits in the colony. Upon arrival,  they founded a convent for the purpose of educating Huron girls in the teachings of the Church. In its early years, the convent educated Indian women from the vicinity of Quebec and Montreal but gradually expanded its remit in the century after Guyart’s death to include girls from the settler community of New France. Many graduates went on to establish religious orders and institutions throughout Canada, including the convents of Trois Rivières and Roberval. Though, like many of Quebec’s buildings, the convent was damaged during Wolfe’s bombardment of the city in 1759, the order and the school survived the province’s transition to English rule.  The school established by Guyart and her peers exists now as the École des Ursulines, a girls’ primary school attached to the original convent.

Like the Ursuline Convent, the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec was an important institution in the new colony run primarily by women. The IHR library owns a rare copy of Jeanne-Françoise Juchereau’s four volume Histoire de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Quebec (Montauban [France], 1751). The Histoire de l’Hôtel-Dieu details the founding of the hospital and its role in the social welfare of New France during the colony’s turbulent early years. Juchereau was the Mother Superior of the Hôtel-Dieu from 1683 to 1707.  She was heavily involved in colonial and imperial politics as a result of her position and found herself battling provincial governors and her Parisian superiors in her quest to secure money and resources for the hospital. She was renowned for her selfless commitment to her patients during the 1688, 1703 and 1711 influenza and measles epidemics. The hospital’s role in the treatment of the sick and destitute during these periods of crisis feature heavily in the Histoire. Along with the Lettres of Marie Guyart, the Histoire reveals the centrality of women in the establishment and maintenance key social institutions in 17th-century Quebec.

Guyart3Finally, the IHR owns two early histories of French Colonization in North America. The first, the Histoire de l’Amerique Septentrionale (Paris, 1722) by Claude-Charles Bacqueville de la Potherie, examines the history and culture of the Iroquois Indian Nation and its relationship with French settlements along the St. Lawrence river. The second work, Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1744), also describes the history of New France, though it places greater emphasis on the environmental factors that shaped colonial development. Charlevoix emphasizes the natural resources of territories of Canada and Louisiana, often with an eye on their usefulness for Europeans. Charlevoix was a Jesuit priest who travelled extensively throughout North America in an unsuccessful mission to reach the Pacific Ocean via intercontinental waterways. Interestingly given the works discussed above, he was moved to write a biography of Marie Guyart as an act of thanksgiving following the wreck of his ship off the coast of Florida in 1722. Based upon notes from Charlevoix’s extensive travels as well as twenty years of research in Paris, the Histoire et description générale represents an early attempt to synthesize a description of the natural resources and ecology of the North American interior with a history of New France.

The next blog entry, due out next week, will focus on immigrant experiences in 19th-century Canada and will examine a varied selection of sources from the library including handbooks for travelers and emigrants, published letter collections and immigrant journals. I look forward to sharing the stories of these men and women with you. À la prochaine fois!


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