'Clash of Empires' (French & Indian War) Fills Out a Chapter in U.S. History (Exhibit/Smithsonian)

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

For most people, the French and Indian War is one of those distant, foggy, inscrutable, eye-crossing wars that seem to exist primarily as fodder for history textbooks written to bore the bejabbers out of sixth-graders. Most of us know only that it happened sometime before the American Revolution, and involved the French, and possibly the last of the Mohicans.

The very phrase, "French and Indian War," is punch line material (e.g., "He hasn't had a hit movie since the French and Indian War").

But this may change. The Civil War has always been popular, the Revolution has been on a hot streak, and now it may be the French and Indian War's turn.

Thus the first thing we ask the historian at the new French and Indian War exhibit down at the Smithsonian is "Who won?"

"That's a good question," says Andy Masich, president of the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. "I take the long view. We'll find out in another 100 years or so."

It wasn't the French or the Indians. On paper the British won, decisively, which may be one reason this sentence is written in English. But the British victory carried an asterisk: The complications of possessing so much territory in North America turned the British into tax-crazed tyrants (to hear the uppity Colonials tell it), and the Crown soon had a revolution on its hands. Which, as you recall, it lost. Thus we're free today to forget about the great British triumph in the French and Indian War.

"Clash of Empires," which opened yesterday at the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley Center, was first presented in May 2005 at the Heinz History Center to help mark the 250th anniversary of the war. The exhibit, which traveled from Pittsburgh to Ottawa before coming to Washington, includes artifacts (wampum belts, rifles, tomahawks, powder horns) gathered from collections around the world, destined to be returned when the exhibition closes in March. The most dramatic elements are the nine life-size figures, created by artist Gerry Embleton, that put human faces on the story....

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