Friday, April 5, 2013

Browsing and Black Robes



Father Pierre-Jean De Smet
One of the great pleasures of being in a library (or a bookstore, where I spent a dozen wonderful years) is browsing. Your eyes scan shelves not with anything particular in mind, but with a lifetime of general interests and a number of current curiosities. A book—or journal or magazine—jumps at you with its shape, color, title, or the image on its cover. You pick it up and, almost unconsciously, look at front and back and open or don’t open and put it back or stick to it a bit longer—sometimes you keep reading. Interests and curiosities are strengthened and changed as you browse, and off you go again, maybe this time searching specifically for a title or subject matter. 

Add continuous reading of Josephy texts and you have my current life at the Josephy Library! This week it was the cover of the Spring 1996 Oregon Historical Quarterly with a photo of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and a number of long haired Indian men, and the announcement of articles on “Catholic Missionizing in the West.” So I was soon reading about the Black Robes in Montana in 1841, about a Jesuit mission that lasted just a decade and collapsed amid cultural misunderstandings—the Indians quest to learn and incorporate Christian teachings; the Jesuits insistence on conversion and replacement of traditional beliefs and ritual—about  the missionaries, traders, and Indians who were part of the drama. And I was marveling at the illustrations of Father Nicolas Point.

Point and his art work, De Smet and his travels—he made 19 trips across the seas raising funds for his missions! The Iroquois Catholics, the relationships between Catholic and Protestant missions, President Grant’s effort to administer Indian agencies with missions; I have a bundle of new topics in my bucket of things to browse and learn.

I sometimes imagine grouping books and specific journals in the Library by Josephy interest areas: fur trade, Civil War, Mormons, treaties, transportation routes, expedition artists and art work, and the ideas of white superiority, Eurocentrism, discovery, nature, progress, etc. etc. etc. Alvin’s curiosities were many, and my browsing is now constrained and strengthened by a growing familiarity with them.

Maybe some of you out there—historians and poets, followers of Indian affairs and Western themes, have similar or related curiosities, and, in your browsing have found the book or article that brought clarity—or inspired further curiosities. Please tell us—and consider our new Library another shelf for your own browsing.  I’m happy to keep my eye out for the topics that occupy your mind, to do a little research by browsing on your behalf. And of course welcome everyone to come into the Library when you are in town and have the pleasure yourself.

notes: The OHQ is Vol. 97. No. 1; and a portfolio of Nicolas Point art work is available at  http://www.jesuitsmissouri.org/arch/online.cfm

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2 comments :

  1. You may just have the best job in the world!
    Moll

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