Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France

The Department of History at Western Michigan University is home to the Joseph L. Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France. The endowment was created by J. Randall Peyser with a gift of $100,000 to honor the memory of his father, Dr. Joseph L. Peyser, an eminent scholar of New France who wrote widely on the history and culture of the French in North America and, in particular, in the Great Lakes region. Peyser published edited translations of important documents, many of which had long escaped scholars’ attention, studies of the French and of French-Native relations, and of French cartography.

His fascination with New France extended not just to the dealings of the elite and powerful, such as kings and priests, but especially to documenting the day-to-day lives of the voyageurs and early settlers. His research unearthed maps that corrected previous historical assumptions as to key French-Native American sites in Illinois and Michigan, including the correct identification of the location of the previously lost Fort St. Joseph. Fort St. Joseph was an important French trading post, located in present day Niles, Michigan, and is currently under archaeological investigation and development by WMU.

The Joseph L. Peyser Endowment aims, primarily, to provide financial assistance in support of research, defined as broadly as were Peyser’s interests, on the history and culture of the French in North America including: the history of the French presence in North America and in the Great Lakes region; the culture (language, arts, material culture, built environment) of the French in North America and in the Great Lakes region; the history and culture of Native peoples with whom the French interacted in North America and the Great Lakes region; the history of Native-French interactions in North America and the Great Lakes region. 

In recognition of Peyser’s broad range of interests, collaborations, and interdisciplinary work, applications for support will be accepted from faculty and graduate students from WMU, as well as from other institutions traveling to WMU to consult the French Michilimackinac Research Project Collection. The materials, on indefinite loan from Mackinac State Historic Parks, represent one of the largest collections outside of France and Canada of French language documents related to the French presence in North America. Peyser was instrumental in identifying and gathering the documents from archives in France, Canada and the United States. Funds may also be used to support New France-related research, conferences, or educational initiatives conducted by community historical associations or other not-for-profit organizations working in affiliation with WMU. Support from The Joseph L. Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France must be acknowledged in all research completed, projects funded, etc.

Joseph L. Peyser Endowment funds may be used to support:

  • WMU faculty members with established scholarly records of research on New France. Such support will be used to expand and enhance research on New France and to disseminate such scholarship. Awards may also be given to faculty members of WMU-affiliated or other colleges and universities with study programs about New France (such as Laval University, Quebec, Canada).
  • WMU graduate students in support of their professional historical research on the above mentioned topics, including the possibility of awarding graduate fellowships to such students, if resources are available. Awards may also be given to graduate students of WMU-affiliated or other colleges and universities and treated as visiting scholars.
  • New France-related research, conferences, or educational initiatives conducted by community historical associations or other not-for-profit organizations working in affiliation with WMU.
  • Visiting scholars and lecturers, including awarding short-term and long- term fellowships for scholars-in-residence if resources are available. 
  • Archaeologically associated research, such as the study and analysis of found artifacts and/or translation of related historical documents. Funds may not be used to support the physical archaeology of sites.

Find out more

For more information contact:

Dr. José António Brandão
Chair, Joseph L. Peyser Endowment Committee