In the Beginning...Northwest Passage.
Ottawa, ON: IDON East Corporation, 1995.
Grades 6 - 8 / Ages 11 - 13.
Thomas James chose a more southerly destination. He based his decision on the travel account of Jens Munk, the Danish explorer who endured an excruciating and demoralizing winter near the Churchill River in 1619. Munk's expedition was utterly ruinous. Only three survivors (from the crew of two vessels) returned to Denmark: Munk, an old man and a young boy. Throughout the cruel, dark winter, the other 62 sailors and officers had slowly expired "with great pains in the loins, as if a thousand knives were thrust through them." The corpses were unceremoniously piled on a nearby hilltop: burial was impossible due to permafrost. The unlikely trio managed, against all odds, to defray the agonizing debilitations of scurvy by sucking the withered roots and grasses found near the Churchill River. Oddly, following his miraculous survival, it was Munk's enduring passion to return to Hudson Bay and continue his all-consuming quest. After hearing Munk's report, however, Danish interest in the region waned and no further funding was forthcoming.In the Beginning...Northwest Passage is a very useful CD ROM-based history resource for students in upper elementary and junior high school. It is part of the History Alive Series, which includes titles on the European discovery of North America and the Klondike gold rush. It presents well-organized, comprehensive information with accompanying images and audio clips, and operates at a very reasonable speed on standard Windows-based 486 computers. It requires 4 MB of memory.
The information is divided into 6 subject areas: First Polar Voyages, European Explorers, Elizabethan Adventurers, Hudson's Bay, Fur Traders and Overlanders, and the Royal British Navy. Information on each of these subject areas can be accessed via a gallery, maps, a search mechanism, themes and a timeline. There are overview and browse options for each subject as well, and there are links between the different topics and subtopics. The icons are followed by a textual description and are easy to understand. Information on each main topic is well-presented on 30 and more screens of large readable text on the right. Either an appropriate image or a summary subhead appears on the left. Below, the user can access a quote on audio clip or other sound. The different methods of accessing each topic produce lists of further subtopics, which are retrieved easily, are concise and are at the age-appropriate reading level. Information can be printed; the only drawback is that information posted to the clipboard cannot be retrieved, however, further exploration of the CD may solve that problem.
This CD will be useful for students studying Canadian history. The images of the north are beautiful and enhance the information provided. The information is extensive, right from the early Greeks who attempted Arctic exploration, to the Norsemen, the Dutch, Russians and the British imperialists their pursuit of fame, glory and the riches of the Orient on ill-equipped wooden vessels resulted in the starvation, freezing and death of immiserated crew members, and the slaughter of Inuit and other Aboriginal people. The mapping of the North, the daily life of the explorers, and their relationship with the people who inhabited the land are documented. Quotes from the explorers themselves give the user an indication of their real personalities and attitudes, as opposed to the idealized versions previously taught in history. The audio clips make the quotes interesting and realistic.
The two young women not being able to escape as the men were, the one for her age, and the other being incombred with a young shild, we tooke. The old wretch, whom divers of our Saylers supposed to be eyther a devill, or a witch, had her buskins plucked off, to see if she was cloven footed, and for her ougly hew and deformity we let her goe; the young woman and the child we brought away.
In the Beginning will provide students with excellent resource material for a comprensive understanding of the motives and the reality of the exploration of the Northwest Passage. Teachers of Canadian history would be well advised to promote its use in the classroom.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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