studies program begins at University of Maine with new director Susan Pinette,
Taken from the St. John Valley
Times, Madawaska, Maine
Franco-Americans have long been a part of
the state's culture. A program at the University of Maine recognizes
this heritage and seeks to educate students about the unique role that
Franco-Americans have had in this area's [state's] history.
University of Maine graduate Susan Pinette
is the new director of the program, which was conceived by [the Franco-American
Center and supported in its earlier years] by former University of Maine
President Winthrop Libby in 1973.
At the time, Libby made a commitment to
[support the] build[ing of] a Franco-American program of national and international
stature, one that authentically reflects the language, history and culture
of Maine's Franco-American community.
"My goal is to make this program relevant
and interesting to students of Franco-American heritage, but also other
students who are interested in the history of Maine," said Pinette.
"When I say Franco-American studies, I think of it in very broad terms,
and when you do that, it becomes relevant in a number of ways."
Pinette's interest in the Franco-American
culture is largely a result of her upbringing. Pinette's family is
from the St. John Valley in Aroostook and she grew up curious about the
culture and language of her parents.
"I knew so little about my culture growing
up, so it became a personal quest of mine to figure out what it means to
be Franco-American," said Pinette. "The French language has always
been the connection for me and when I came to the university, studying
and learning French was one way to learn more about myself."
After graduating from the University of
Maine with degrees in French and international affairs and political science
in 1991, Pinette received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in France.
She then moved to the University of California at Irvine, where she earned
a Ph.D. in French literature.
Her dissertation focused on 18th century
representations of North American by French writers such as Baron de Lahontan,
Diderot and Rousseau. In her work Pinette argues for the relevance
of these representations to French history. This caused them to often
describe their new location in terms of how it compares to their home countries.
While an undergraduate at University of
Maine, Pinette says there were fewer opportunities available to learn about
Franco-American culture. As director of the academic program, Pinette
says she hopes to increase the visibility and reach of the Franco-American
presence on campus and in the region.
"I want to bring together all the resources
that exist out there. The Franco-American Center has been on campus
for over 25 years and there has been a lot of community activism and research
in the area," said Pinette. "Part of what I see the program
doing is complementing that community effort with more theoretical and
Pinette says she realizes that not everyone
has the language connection to the Franco-American culture.
"English has become just as much the language
of Franco-American culture as French, she said. "Some people research
their family genealogy, others are interested in Franco cooking.
There's a lot of people doing their own research into their own culture
in this state."
At present, Pinette is a professor in the
program and is teaching the introductory course, "Franco-Americans of the
Northeast: Introduction to an Ethnic Community." (See
web page for the program and complete course listing here.
"There are eight students signed up for
the course this semester, which is amazing because it wasn't really advertised.
People just saw it in the catalog and signed up," said Pinette. "My
hope is that students will see Franco-American studies has something to
say and contribute to ethnic and cultural studies."
The program is an interdisciplinary effort,
with courses in anthropology, French, Franco-American civilization, women's
studies, and history required to minor in the program. Students must
take 18 credits to receive a minor.
This cross-disciplinary approach suites
the subject matter wee, according to Pinette.
"I think the Franco-American culture itself
is very diverse, and recognizing that diversity is very important to me."
"The way I think of it is that the University
of Maine is a land-grant and sea-grant college and that means focusing
on and serving the people of Maine," said Pinette.