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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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Activities: Author Activities

Samuel de Champlain - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What kinds of misunderstandings and disagreements do Champlain and his party have with the Native Americans they encounter? How do they communicate? What kind of strategies do they use to diffuse tension?

  2. Context: In Chapter VIII of The Voyages of Sieur de Champlain, Champlain describes the problems he has communicating with Native Americans. He finds that he cannot get answers to questions because "we did not understand their language, although they attempted to explain by signs." Later, he credits Etienne Brulé for his skill as both a cultural and a linguistic interpreter between the Indians and the French. John Smith, on the other hand, never mentions the language barrier that must have complicated his dealings with the Native Americans in Virginia, nor does he mention the presence of interpreters. Why might Champlain and Smith have narrated their encounters with Native American languages so differently? How do their different accounts of linguistic communication shape their descriptions of their own positions within Native American communities?

  3. Context: How does Champlain's concern with developing the fur trade compare to the Spanish explorers' interest in finding gold and setting up encomiendas in America? How might the differences in the production, trade, and value of these different commodities have led to substantive differences between the French and the Spanish settlements?

  4. Context: How does Etienne Brulé survive the hostile Indians who torture him and are "prepared to put him to death"? Does Champlain's narrative of Brulé's "miraculous" escape describe divine intervention, or is he implying that Brulé simply benefited from a fortuitously timed thunderstorm? How does Champlain's narration of the role of prayer and religious icons in French interactions with natives compare to Columbus's or Díaz del Castillo's descriptions of Spanish religious practices during the Conquest?

  5. Exploration: Both Champlain and William Bradford narrated their contact experiences with Native Americans on the coast of present-day Massachusetts. How do their accounts differ? What do they have in common? How do their descriptions of the coastal landscape and the area's natural resources compare?

  6. Exploration: To what extent is the history of New France important for understanding American colonial history? Why do you think Champlain's voyages were not depicted in one of the four scenes of U.S. discovery in the Capitol Rotunda? (The four scenes are of Columbus, de Soto, Pocahontas, and the Pilgrims, and they date from the 1840s to 1850s.) Would Champlain's voyages be included today if the Rotunda paintings were replaced?

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