Borders and Borderlands

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One of the best-known Acadians nationwide is Evangeline, a character made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem about the Acadian Expulsion.

The National Endowment for the Humanities does important work through their grants, and here’s one example: the Maine Humanities Council’s Borders and Borderlands project, a highly competitive NEH grant award of $159,097 through the Division of Education Programs.

Borders and Borderlands: The Acadian Experience in Maine is a summer institute for teachers on the history and culture of the French Acadian peoples of the St. John Valley in northern Maine. The Institute took place in July and August, 2014 at the University of Maine in Orono and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Key project partners included the Canadian-American Center, the Maine Folklife Center, and the Franco-American Centre at University of Maine, and the Acadian Archives at University of Maine in Fort Kent.

Drawing on history, literature, and language studies, participants will examine 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 ways in which the Acadian dialect of French has enriched literature and influenced cultural identity on both sides of the border.

We were thrilled to have the last few days of the Institute coincide with the Congrès Mondial Acadien 2014 (World Acadian Congress). If you haven’t heard, this gathering of Acadian families from many countries takes place every five years. In 2014, it was be co-hosted by the St. John Valley and neighboring Québec and New Brunswick.

The story of Maine’s Acadian communities has never received much attention outside of the state. Borders and Borderlands was an effort to correct that neglect by offering to a national audience of teachers an opportunity to learn the fascinating story of how Acadian culture, having survived against all odds, plays a revealing role in the larger context of borders and boundaries, frontiers, and contested terrains, perhaps a more urgent subject today than at any other time since the Civil War. 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; 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? We’d love to hear what you think.


Originally published in Notes From an Open Book e-newsletter, August 2013