Borders and Borderlands: The Acadian Experience in Maine

 

Maine-New Brunswick borderHow do geographic, political, ethnic, and cultural boundaries shape and define our lives? In the U.S., our border with Mexico gets the most press coverage and figures most prominently in political discourse. The Canadian-U.S. border, far longer and comparatively more peaceful, is little studied by comparison. What can an examination of this boundary line teach us? In Borders and Borderlands: The Acadian Experience in Maine, we’ll study the northeastern border between the U.S. and Canada through the lens of the Acadians, a French-speaking group that makes up one of many nationalities in this rural region. Few Americans even know about the painful deportation suffered by the Acadians in Nova Scotia in the 18th century, an event that created centuries of diaspora, family separations, and for some, a loss of identity. But for the Acadians in the St. John Valley, which straddles the Maine-New Brunswick (Canada) boundary, a proud identity has not only endured, but continues to thrive as Acadians everywhere embrace their shared heritage.


St. John River The St. John River winds slowly through an idyllic valley and forms a geographical border between Maine and Canada. It’s a place where neighbors know each other well, families have lived side by side for generations, and kinship crosses back and forth across the river. This is home to a multi-ethnic stew of people, predominantly of French heritage (including the Acadians, whose tight-knit family groups can be found in both Canada and in New England) but also comprising Scots-Irish, English, native Wabanaki, and others. The Valley stretches across geographic, national, and ethnic boundaries and plays a revealing role within the larger context of borders, frontiers, and contested terrains. In December 2012, the U. S. Census Bureau predicted that by the end of this decade, no single racial or ethnic group would constitute a majority of children under the age of 18, and by midcentury, no single group would constitute a majority of the country as a whole. Does the borderlands experience of the Acadians have something to teach the country as we come to terms with the fact that multiculturalism will soon be the norm?

Family banners, Acadian festivalWe invite you to immerse yourself in the story of the Acadians and explore how the concept of borders is wound tightly into the very fabric of their culture and identity. Drawing on history, literature, and language studies, borderland and Acadian scholars from Maine and New Brunswick will guide you in examining borderland theory as applied in the American Northeast; the history of the Acadian people; cultural phenomena such as Acadian folk music, local foodways, architecture, and crafts; and how North American French continues to enrich literature and influence cultural identity on both sides of the border.

You will experience Acadian culture and borderland study in the U.S. (at the University of Maine and in the pastoral heart of the St. John Valley at the University of Maine at Fort Kent) and in New Brunswick (at Université de Moncton and in Edmundston). The last few days of the Institute will coincide with the Congrès mondial acadien 2014 (World Acadian Congress), itself a lively cross-border “gathering-in” of Acadian families from around the world that takes place every five years and will be co-hosted by Maine and neighboring Québec and New Brunswick.

About NEH Teacher Institutes

Borders and Borderlands: The Acadian Experience in Maine is offered through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its Summer Programs in the Humanities for School and College Educators. The programs provide teachers with a tuition-free opportunity for substantive study of significant humanities ideas and texts.

An institute for school teachers, typically led by a team of core faculty and visiting scholars, is designed to present the best available scholarship on important humanities issues and works taught in the nation's schools. The 25 to 30 NEH Summer Scholars participating in each institute compare and synthesize the various perspectives offered by the faculty, make connections between the institute content and classroom applications, and often develop improved teaching materials for their classrooms.

These study opportunities are especially designed for this program and are not intended to duplicate courses normally offered by graduate programs. On completion of an NEH Summer Institute, NEH Summer Scholars will receive a certificate indicating their participation.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.