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Clash of Empires poster

 

A Visit to
"Clash of Empires"

This is an archived article about a display that ended in July 2007.


 

Recently our webmaster visited the exhibit "Clash of Empires" at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Because there is little publicity giving a pictorial overview of the exhibit to encourage you to visit, we are posting here a review of the exhibit for your enjoyment.  Hopefully, this will encourage our web viewers located near Washington, DC, to visit the Ripley International Center just west of the Smithsonian "castle" on the mall to see the exhibit. Note that the exhibit ended in July 2007.

Entry hallway to the exhibit
 
The entry hallway to the exhibit has a large mural as well as several interactive exhibits and some artifacts.  
 

Manaquins of two French voyageurs carrying a canoe

 One enters the exhibit by passing under two life-sized French voyageurs carrying a canoe. This represents the expansion of European interests in the New World in the mid-eighteenth century.

First Rebels is the section that deals with the conflict between Indians and Europeans

The exhibit clearly shows that the French and Indian war was a conflict between three powerful forces: British, French and Native American.


 

Col. Washington anquishing over his first and only military surrender

Closeup of Col. Washington after the defeat at Fort Necessity
Col. Washington thinking of the implications of the surrender he signed at the battle of Fort Necessity. George Washington never learned to speak French as many of the upper class of the colonies did, so he was unaware of the statement that he had assassinated a French envoy at the skirmish at Jumonville Glen.  In the background above is the Robert Griffing painting of the opening of the Battle of Fort Necessity

Close-up of the surrender document with Washington's signature

Close-up of the surrender document written in French with Col. Washington's signature along with Col. James Mackey's signature and that of the French commander


 

Vista of display on Braddock's defeat showing a rifleman

Display of soldier with a painting of the funeral of Gen. Braddock in the background (also shown below) with Col. Washington reading the funeral service

Painting of Gen. Braddock's funeral after the Battle of the Monongahela

Below is a model of the forested battlefield just past the crossing of the Monongahela River where Gen. Braddock was defeated by the French and their Indian allies

model of the forest battlefield of Braddock's defeat

After Braddock's defeated army left western Pennsylvania and Virginia for Philadelphia, the central British frontier was left open to attacks by the enemy. This is what prompted Gov. Dinwiddie of Virginia to order the reformation of the Virginia Regiment with Col. George Washington as its commander. The next several years would bring a bloody war to the backcountry.

defeat of Gen. Braddock's army

 

The fight for Canada and the eventual French surrender

This part of the exhibit displays information about the battle to win Canada and of the French personalities involved. The soldier is shown here furling the French flag symbolizing defeat. This photo also gives some indication of the maps on display; there are many contemporary maps shown. Below is the area depicting the occupation of Canada.

Vista of the occupation of Canada

 

mural showing other battles of the Seven Years War

Since the French and Indian War was part of a large multi-continent war between Great Britain and France, the exhibit has an area covering the conflict on other continents.  Here a British sailor in blue coat is waiting for his daily portion while the background painting shows a battle on another continent.

British King George III

Although George III is presented as the victorious British monarch, it was his grandfather, George II, who reigned during the French and Indian War.  George II died in 1760, the year after the fall of Quebec to Gen. Wolfe at the Plains of Abraham effectively ending the French and Indian War although Montreal did not fall until the next year.

Video explaining the lead up to the American Revolution

a gorget, the insignia of an officer
 
The exhibit has two wide screen videos. The first is an introductory story of the prelude to and reasons for the French and Indian War. The photo above shows the second video which explains how the French and Indian War led up to the American Revolution. The screen is showing an enlarged picture of a gorget. The exhibit has one located nearby.

Some thoughts on the exhibit

The exhibit is somewhat limited by the difficulty in finding artifacts directly connected to the French and Indian War. There are very few that exist so one is left with having to use eighteenth century artifacts that are similar to what one would expect to see used in the war. Another problem is that if one is going to cover the larger, world-wide conflict of the Seven Years war and also give space to the relationship between the American conflict and the coming American Revolution, one must limit time and space spent on the American battles and colonial personalities. Thus there is much that is not covered.

display case with rifles and pipe tomahawks
Display of period artifacts including pipe tomahawks and rifles.  Unfortunately, one can get the misimpression that the French goods were of better quality than the British if one compares the intricately worked Canadian tomahawk to the plain British one. However, the exhibit has a very good collection of artifacts, paintings and maps that make a visit worthwhile and educational. The mannequins are exceptionally well done and add much to the exhibit.

One must be careful to view all the small text panels or story boards to get a good understanding of the war. Unfortunately, the panels are relatively small with small type so one can bypass them when looking at the larger paintings and mannequins.

text panel containing English and French text text from a text panel

photographing artifacts in the display
 
Fortunately, at the Smithsonian one is allowed to take photographs so one can have a personal record.  This allows reenactors to photograph details that can help in their interpretations.

This is just a sampling of the entire exhibit.  There are many more artifacts and displays to see. The map collection is larger than one usually finds with such an exhibit. The exhibit will probably be dismantled after March 15th, so get to see it before it disappears.


 

 

This exhibit was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, through July 2007. Apparently, it is not scheduled to appear anywhere else after that. It is a production of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh with funding from many sources including Mellon Financial Corp and Ford Foundation.

Handout provided by the French and Indian War 250, Inc.  (This is a very large full color .pdf file that gives information on how one can participate in the 250th anniversary of this pivotal event of American history.)

Information on the schedule for this and other French and Indian War exhibits/events can be found at http://www.frenchandindianwar250.org/partners/events_calendar.aspx

 

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archived: Aug. 16, 2007
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