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Past Programs | Borders and Borderlands

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Anne Schlitt
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(207) 733-5051

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Archived Program

Past Programs | Borders and Borderlands

The Acadian Experience in Maine

July 20 - August 10, 2014
A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers

 

How 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 studied 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

Photo by Daniel Picard

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?

Float at the Acadian Festival

Photo by Sheila Jans

Our participants immersed themselves in the story of the Acadians and explored how the concept of borders was 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 guided participants 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.



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