Thursday, December 6, 2007

Visual distraction

Lately, I've really begun to sink my teeth into the visual research for the Lake Erie book. I used to do a lot of this type of thing when I worked as a production editor at James Lorimer & Company, a small Canadian publishing house that has put out a number of history titles over the years. It was there, in fact, that the idea for this book was born.

One of the things I adore about visual research is that many of the archival images (paintings, woodcuts, and whatnot) that I turn up reveal much more about the beliefs and prejudices of the time they were created than they do about the events they portray. Case in point:

This is a seventeenth-century impression of the construction of the Griffon, the first ship ever to set sail on Lake Erie, in 1679. The Griffon was the brainchild of the explorer Rene Robert, Cavelier de La Salle. The enterprising La Salle, who would go on to gain fame for his explorations of the Mississippi River and Louisiana, planned to use the boat to haul furs out of the American Midwest and on to Montreal, where they would be processed and sent on to Europe for sale.

The image, however, looks a lot more like a scene from Tahiti than from the banks of the Niagara River, where the Griffon was built and launched. In the foreground, scantily clad Native warriors gape at the partially constructed vessel. Meanwhile, two French shipwrights forge iron beneath a very palmish-looking tree that looks like nothing I've ever come across in Escarpment country. Speaking of the Escarpment, I suppose it is represented by the towering mountains lining the background.

I'm looking forward to pressing even further on. In the end, Lake Erie: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean will contain between 20 and 30 images, consisting of a mix of sites I've photographed myself and historical artworks like this.

If I happen across any more interesting ones, I'll let you know.

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