Franco-American studies program begins at University of Maine with new director Susan Pinette, Ph.D. 

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 academic research."
 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.

Contact Susan Pinette

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