Libraries & Culture 39.1 (2004) 111-112
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The French in Texas: History, Migration, Culture. Edited by François Lagarde. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. xiii, 330 pp. $55.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper). ISBN 0-292-74734-9, 0-292-70528-X.
The French in Texas is a collection of essays, twenty-one in all, describing many of the most significant people and events associated with the history of the French (broadly defined in this work to encompass French-speaking individuals as well as citizens and representatives of France itself) in Texas. The areas covered range over a broad chronology, from La Salle's shipwreck and brief sojourn on the Texas coast in the late seventeenth century to the presence of French multinationals in the state at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In its survey of the Franco-Texan nexus from the accident-prone La Salle to the telecommunications giant Alcatel, this volume treats a multitude of interesting themes: intrigue and adventure on the Franco-Spanish borderlands before 1763, pirates and privateers at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ill-fated attempt of Bonapartists to found a colony on the Trinity River after Waterloo, the Alamo's French connection, relations between the Republic of Texas and the bourgeois monarchy in France, and the French influence on Texan art, architecture, and education. Various individuals receive substantial attention as well: La Salle's fellow explorers Bellisle, Béranger, and La Harpe, the important colonial figures St. Denis and Athanase de Mézières, the impresario of French immigration, Henri Castro, and a range of French travel writers and artists who graced the state with their talents. The contributions that make up this volume are as variable in length as they are in topic; the longest is nearly twenty pages, while the shortest is barely four.
It is difficult and frustrating to review a work such as this. Each essay deserves individual attention, but this obviously cannot be accomplished within the constraints of a book review. The next best alternative—to identify the common conceptual, methodological, and theoretical issues the various contributions all address—has proven elusive in the case of this work. Aside from the obvious subject that all of the essays address, the French in Texas, the volume lacks chronological, thematic, and theoretical unity. This is not to say that the work is flawed; rather, it is to recognize that it does not reach beyond the confines of its subject to engage issues of a broader nature. The French in Texas certainly fills a void in our knowledge of Texas history and even goes beyond a traditional [End Page 111] local-historical approach by adding an international dimension to the history of a single state. Yet it is unlikely to appeal to readers who are not already interested in the history of Texas.
The volume could have been improved if the individual contributions had been grouped into chronological or thematic sections, each headed by an introductory essay tying them together. To have subdivided the volume in this way—into sections on exploration, the colonial period, the time of filibustering expeditions and piracy, the Republic of Texas, art and literature, the economy, and so on—would have allowed the editor to have emphasized issues of broader historical importance not only to Texas but also to the United States, France, and Mexico as well. With only a cursory introduction and conclusion, the reader is left with the unsatisfying conclusion that France and the French contributed to Texas history. But this much was already evident from the volume's title. A more thoughtful internal organization and analytical framing might have sharpened the book's argument.