ORONO — The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $350,000 to the University of Maine Franco American Programs for a project to digitize historic materials and make them openly available online.
UMaine will conduct the project on behalf of the Franco American Collections Consortium, a collaboration of university archives that maintain collections of books, documents, photos, oral histories, art, maps and artifacts related to French-Canadian and Acadian heritage communities.
The project will digitize nearly 40,000 pages of French-language and bilingual French-English family correspondence, historic scrapbooks, manuscripts, artworks, personal diaries, songbooks and other personal papers, as well as numerous oral history audio recordings. These materials illuminate 150 years of struggles and triumphs of Franco Americans from all over New England.
Once digitized, all of the items will be hosted online at the Franco American Digital Archives/Portail franco-américain, which provides bilingual access to Franco American materials at institutions across North America. The portal collects a diversity of Franco American primary sources for scholars, community members and the public. It uses both standardized and cultural specific metadata to create a full range of access points. The portal was created with support from another NEH grant that UMaine Franco American Programs received in 2020.
“Five academic institutions have been working for five years on this project, and we are honored that the NEH has recognized the importance of our work and the significance of these materials,” says Susan Pinette, professor of modern languages and director of Franco American Programs.
This project responds to the NEH’s special focus on the 250th anniversary of American independence, emphasizing the contributions of under-represented communities in the nation’s history. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Franco Americans faced deep-seated antagonism for their language, Catholicism, family ties to their home country and perceived willingness to accept low wages. They were racialized in public discourse and often excluded from civic life.
Franco American materials offer unique insight into a broad range of research questions concerning ethnic and religious America, worker relations, gender and family dynamics, political party formation, language usage and folkways. Despite this, Franco American materials are rarely known and often hard to find. The term “Franco-Americans” was designated a Library of Congress subject heading only in 2008. This project aims to bolster the available information about the history of these people.
“Collectively, these sources chronicle a unique cultural community whose materials continue to be neglected and hard to access,” Pinette says.