Louis XIV Class Visits Fort Niagara

Written by Kyle Robinson, PhD Candidate and Instructor at the University of Rochester

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Many people know about the sumptuous world of Louis XIV’s Versailles, but few people probably know that the reach of the Sun King extended all the way to what is now Western New York. In 1678, the French explorer Robert, Sieur de La Salle stopped at the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario before beginning a long voyage of exploration that would take him through the Ohio River valley and down the Mississippi. Here, near modern day Youngstown, NY, an encampment was built that La Salle named Fort Conti, later known as Fort Niagara. The goal was trade, trade with the Native Peoples of the area and access to the lucrative beaver pelts the French provided to the European market. La Salle’s effort was part of Louis XIV’s wider mission, through the influence of his famous contrôleur général des finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to expand the wealth and power of the French state and its economy. Despite the lucrative trade in pelts and the importance of its strategic location, the French initially struggled to maintain a permanent presence at the mouth of the Niagara. The encampment was abandoned several times in the face of harsh winters, disease, and a tenuous supply chain that struggled to arrive from New France’s more permanent settlements along the St. Lawrence. It was not until 1726, eleven years after the death of Louis XIV, that a permanent stone structure was built, serving as a fortified trading post and France’s strategic claim to the Niagara region until the Fort was taken in 1759 by the British during the Seven Years War. After the American War of Independence, the Fort was used as an entry point for Loyalist immigration to Canada before being turned over to the United States, and was again a major arena of combat during the War of 1812.

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On Saturday November 5, 2016, students from the University of Rochester’s course Rays of the Sun King: The Age of Louis XIV travelled to Fort Niagara to explore the history of the site and French activity in North America during the reign of the Roi-Soleil. After a tour of the Fort’s museum and its collection of French and British armaments, coins, and remnants of everyday life from the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, students were then led on a tour of the Fort by the course’s instructor Kyle Robinson. Robinson outlined for the students the role the Fort played in French New World expansion during the reign of Louis XIV, and how an early trading post grew into a major fortified position that utilized the mid-eighteenth century’s latest technologies in design and construction. Students were then able to watch the Fort’s staff conduct a demonstration of Early Modern French cannon and musketry, along with recreations of French drill and field hospital techniques before returning to Rochester.

To learn more about the History Department at the University of Rochester, its courses, programs, and faculty, visit https://www.rochester.edu/College/HIS

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Finding the Other Berlin Wall

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By: Dasha Lynch

People often talk about a decisive moment in their lives in which they discovered their passion and finally realized what they wanted to do in the future. My moment came in early August, 2016 as I was working in the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Cologne, Germany doing research for my senior thesis. In the (very) cold office of this archive, I felt butterflies in my stomach when the librarian placed a pile of documents on my desk. I realized my future is history (pun intended).

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This journey to self-discovery in fact began three years ago during my gap year in Germany as a Rotary Exchange Student. On my daily train ride to and from school I often sat next to women in beautiful Middle Eastern clothing, chatting away in languages I did not understand. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the municipality of Friedland, a stop on our ride, was home to thousands of refugees, and had been as early as 1945 when the Control Commission for Germany – British Element built a camp in the town. The camp served as a way station for evacuees, returning soldiers, and refugees, and to this day, it serves as a reception center for asylum seekers and refugees. These chance train-ride encounters first introduced me to Germany’s rich immigrant culture – and perhaps inspired my specific academic interest in Turkish immigrants in Germany, an interest which has led to studying German and Turkish history and languages.

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To pursue this interest I applied for, and received, the Discover Grant and Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Research Grant. My plan was to study second language acquisition by Turkish immigrant women in Germany in the 1960s and 70s, the period of first wave Turkish Gastarbeiter (guest worker) immigration to Germany. Starting in the 1960s, the West German government brought semi-skilled Turkish laborers, mostly from poor, remote regions of Turkey, to take low paid assembly line positions in factories around the country. Generally, Turkish immigrants settled in communities made up only of other Turkish immigrants. This form of isolation, as well as the use of interpreters in the factories that employed the Turkish laborers, made German seem unnecessary, and therefore prevented proper integration of Turkish immigrants into German culture.

This problem of failed integration was particularly acute for women who joined their husbands solely as housewives and caretakers of children. As the NPR article, “Muslim Women Behind Wall of Silence in Germany,” observes, “Many [Turkish women] first met their husbands on their wedding day, only to disappear into a world ruled by rural Turkish traditions — unnoticed by their German neighbors.” As Seyran Ates, lawyer and women’s rights activist, notes, these “women [were] physically living in Germany, but psychologically living in another culture” controlled by the men in their families, hidden behind a “wall of silence.” While this “wall of silence” is clearly an urgent contemporary problem, I was planning to explore the early years of its construction, looking back to the beginning of Turkish immigration into Germany. Though, as some sources point out, Muslim men played a large role in preventing Turkish women from learning German, I hypothesized that the German government’s failure to create effective, culturally sensitive language programs also contributed to this “wall of silence” and to the growing isolation of Turkish women.

I was happy with the concept of my project, but had no idea where to begin or how to approach it. The internet was, of course, a big help in locating various agencies and offices that dealt with immigration in Germany. But contacting these organizations brought no results; they all insisted they knew nothing about the subject. I was beginning to lose hope. And then finally, a breakthrough! Just days before my departure for Germany a random email gave me a lead: Cologne’s Documentation Center and Museum of Migration, DOMiD. Flash forward and I found myself in that cold office with a pile of old papers before me – and butterflies in my stomach.

One might wonder why old documents would give an undergrad butterflies, though fellow historians will of course understand. I was no stranger to reading primary sources, but in the past they had come as scans of originals. These papers, however, contained real traces of people’s lives. As I was reading through them the focus of my project began to change. Instead of passive and silent immigrants, I encountered strong women on these pages who understood the importance of language to integration and organized themselves to demand access to education. The helpful staff at the museum, and one Stanford PhD student working on her dissertation there (and also my new role model), directed me to yet another great resource, FFBIZ, a feminist archive in Berlin, where I found even more sources to support this new image of Turkish women in Germany.

My time researching was too short, but now I know what I’m doing next summer – it’s back to Germany for me!

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**Dasha is an Undergraduate History Major here at the University of Rochester.