Champlain's Dream


of an Exhibition

by David McKenzie

Published on January 21, 2009

  • Description:

    Being someone who took a colonial American history classes in grad school and finds that era fascinating, I made sure to see “Champlain’s Dream” at the Canadian Embassy before it closed. I was glad that I did. Based on the book of the same name by David Hackett Fischer, the exhibit was a project of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

    Although compressed into a small gallery, the exhibit was able to show a trove of priceless archival artifacts from the John Carter Brown Library, particularly maps. Although the artifacts were the center of the exhibit, they thankfully did not just stand on their own. Rather, text panels and labels explained the artifacts and their time period. The well-written text itself, while sometimes overly lengthy, provided solid context for the mostly maps, images, and books throughout the exhibit.

    While audiovisual features may have further helped visitors connect with the items, such features were not necessary and not present. Besides, who has the budget for such things these days?

    My main quips came not with the content of the exhibit, but rather its layout and design. The design seemed almost an afterthought, and for me that diminished the experience. The exhibit’s otherwise strong organizational scheme did not readily reveal itself. It was not apparent from the simple text panels (black text on white background) which was a main text, which was a subtext, and even which was a caption. The font sizes differed little. The locations of the main text panels in each section was not consistent. I found myself skipping among parts of sections and thus less sure of what I was seeing.

    The locations of the artifact labels and explanations also left something to be desired. Some sat near the tops of the cases. I found my head bobbing back and forth to look at the artifacts and read the explanations. Different locations for the captions would have helped.

    All in all, “Champlain’s Dream” was a fascinating exhibit. While a different design would have helped visitors better understand the content, it nonetheless was a fine effort from the John Carter Brown Library and the Canadian Embassy in displaying well-explained artifacts in a small space.

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