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Recommendations for Further Research


Don Cyr of Lille, Maine has conducted research on architecture and led many local historic preservation efforts over the past thirty years.
Acadian Culture in Maine
documents much of cultural importance. It is the first step in providing an adequate information base about Acadian culture in Maine. But this report must not be regarded as a sufficient base for future programming and conservation efforts. Much has yet to be discovered and understood about Acadians in Maine. For instance, the report does not present sufficient detail regarding the diversity of experience of Maine Acadians. Cultural institutions and what they mean to contemporary Maine Acadians have not yet been systematically studied or analyzed. Historical context has been given for certain physical manifestations of material culture, but there is limited data about what changes occurred, the mechanisms for change, and how the change has been incorporated into the worldview of the people. The geographic scope of the study was limited to a few communities in the Upper St. John Valley; a broader scope is needed in the Valley, northern Aroostook County, and other areas of Maine. Due to time limitations, folklife fieldworkers were unable to document the full seasonal round of activities.

It is tempting, with programming in mind, to mount research keyed to specific arts or other forms of cultural expression. However, a systematic, extended, in-depth documentary study of the culture would be more productive in the long run. It should include contributions from qualified scholars with expertise in regional history and culture. Research should include members of the Maine Acadian community as research associates and others from the community as reviewers, providing feedback on the end products. The following are some specific areas which warrant serious research.

Archeological resources are an integral part of the investigation into Maine Acadian culture. A reconnaissance "walk-over" survey is needed to identify and describe sites, and assess their potential to provide data on the material culture and cultural adaptations of the early French-speaking settlers in the study area. The overview should be coordinated with a Valley-wide survey of cultural resources and followed by specific site investigations and documentation, as called for. The survey should be conducted in conjunction with the state historic preservation officer.

Some publications and events sponsored by the National Park Service as part of the implementation of the Maine Acadian Culture Preservation Act. Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes photograph by Nicholas Hawes, 2003.

Potato houses such as this one in Fort Kent are an important architectural feature of the early to mid 20th century in the St. John Valley. Architectural resources warrant a reconnaissance "windshield" survey of properties over 50 years in age. Such a survey should be coordinated with a Valley-wide survey of cultural resources. Preliminary work should be followed by intensive surveys as called for. The survey should be conducted in conjunction with the state historic preservation officer and could enlist the skills and resources of the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service. Consideration should also be given to the potential importance of properties of cultural significance that are less than 50 years old.

Some of the most important properties fall within the following categories: (a) dwellings--log farmhouses and village houses from the early to late 19th century; early- to mid-20th-century farmhouses; seasonal lake camps; (b) farm buildings--pignon simple (simple-gable) barns; twin barns; comble cassé (gambrel-roof) barns; large, early-20th-century, simple-gable grain and hay barns; potato houses; tool and equipment sheds; (c) religious properties and sites-- all churches; presbyteries; convents; roadside and memorial crosses and shrines; cemeteries; sacred places; (d) school buildings-- Catholic Church schools; wood-frame public schoolhouses; early- to mid-20th-century brick buildings; (e) mills and historical mill sites-- buckwheat, carding, lumber, and others; (f) sites associated with the railroad--starch factories; railroad potato warehouses; train depots and stations.

Cultural Land Use Survey
Looking north toward and across the St. John River around Van Buren, the pattern of roads and fields shows evidence of the orginal long-lot land grants. All lands in the Upper St. John Valley have been utilized and/or modified by Euro-Americans to some degree, even portions that appear to be pristine. A comprehensive knowledge of the geological, ecological, and cultural history of the area is a prerequisite to understanding Acadian culture in Maine. A cultural land use study from the cultural/historical geography approach--utilizing geography's emphasis on discovering patterns--will best lay the foundation for understanding some of the present land formations, land boundaries, exploited/exploitable natural resources, extant cultural resources, and potential archeological resources. Defining patterns, developing a context for the patterns, and assessing the resources within that context will provide the necessary background for understanding the features of the Upper St. John Valley landscape. The study should be coordinated with a Valley-wide survey of cultural resources carried out in consultation with the state historic preservation office.

Subjects to be addressed by the reconnaissance land use survey include: (a) land property systems, such as the systems of land allotment utilized during early settlement, in relation to natural features; (b) land ownership and land exchanges such as sale, lease, and inheritance systems; (c) extractive industries, such as logging and mining, with associated land modifications and infrastructures; (d) agricultural systems, land modifications, and associated infrastructures; (e) animal husbandry practices and associated infrastructures; (f) transportation systems and associated infrastructures; and (g) vernacular place names.

Phyllis Perreault and her father, Roland Perreault on their farm in Wallagrass. A better understanding of the significance of family, the land, religion, language, and local institutions is needed in order to truly appreciate and understand Acadian culture in Maine. A systematic, extended, in-depth ethnographic study by a qualified applied cultural anthropologist is needed. A clearly stated research design is required, using methods such as participant observation, mini-surveys, life histories and other oral history, analysis of census data, archival research, and in-depth interviews. The research team should include members of the Maine Acadian community as research associates and others from the community as reviewers, providing feedback on products. Such a study would focus on qualitative analysis of Acadian cultural identity in the 1990s, as defined through Maine Acadian institutions, context and mechanisms of cultural change, and family, community, and religion. Looking at social relationships, ideology, and what local institutions mean to Maine Acadians will provide cultural and social contexts to data gathered in folklife and other studies.

Additional documentation of the region's expressive culture is required for adequate development of programs of many kinds, including performances, exhibitions, publications, and apprenticeships. Areas of expressive culture to be documented should include foodways, music, dance, oral traditions, occupational lore, material culture, religious traditions, and family and community celebrations.

Historical Documents
The Béatrice Craig collection of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent includes St. John Valley property transfer data and family reconstitutions for the period 1785-1850. Copies of property records, successions, deeds, vendor/vendee records, and other documents pertaining to early French-speaking settlers must be added to those already held in Valley archives and made available to researchers of Maine Acadian history. Existing documents recorded prior to United States ownership of a portion of the Upper St. John River Valley (1785-1842) are presently in Canada (mostly in New Brunswick). Records pertaining to the early histories of the oldest known Maine Acadian structures and sites in the Valley are generally not available in Maine.

The most important study of language in the Valley should be sociolinguistic: who says what to whom in what context. We must be able to document actual usage of French and the attitudes of people in the community to the use of the French language. Investigators trained in the ethnography of communication must observe the actual language behavior of the people of the Valley: where and when do they speak French; who are the speakers; why do they speak French; what kind of French do they speak; what kinds of media use French as the mode of communication; what are the rules of etiquette for using French in the community; and what kinds of genres--speeches, songs, stories, invitations--are typically in French? Only then can we gauge the strength of the French language and its special place in the Upper St. John Valley.

Other language research is needed to address questions related the nature of "Valley French." The insights of lexicologists, dilectologists, phonologists, and structural grammarians should be sought to better undesrstand and describe the language in the Valley.

Natural Resources
The St. John River has had a profound influence on the culture of the St. John Valley, one which has changed over time but remains important today. Here, Nicole Bellefleur and teacher Paul Baker wade in the St. John River to cool off on a hot day. The Maine Acadian Culture Preservation Act authorizes the National Park Service to enter into cooperative agreements with owners of properties of natural significance associated with the Acadian people of the state of Maine. Natural resources, the St. John River being chief among them, have had a profound influence on life in the Valley. A literature review and basic overview of the area's biotic and abiotic resources will help define the cultural context of Maine Acadians. The identification of specific sites of interest should be included in the overview. Given that natural resources do not respect political boundaries, the effort should be conducted in cooperation with entities in Canada.

Some publications and events sponsored by the National Park Service as part of the implementation of the Maine Acadian Culture Preservation Act. Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes photograph by Nicholas Hawes, 2003.
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