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09.00  Acadian Transnationalism, Sites, and Heritage

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9:00, Tuesday 7 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

How transnational refugee groups respond to their plight is clearly an important question. Daily, thousands of people are displaced from homelands across the world due to war or natural calamity. Refugee issues include survival, separation, and the desire for reunification in the face of devastated or distant homelands, human trafficking, detentions, returns, and death at sea or on the road. Under these circumstances little thought is given at the time to the topic of heritage, defined as human relationships with things or places that can be passed down through generations and used in the production of collective memory. However, diaspora as a collective experience may initiate a process of heritage formation involving intangible expressions such as group narratives and commemorative events of transnational experience. Such narratives are emerging (as of fall 2015) from Middle Eastern refugees; among them is Ghaith, a twenty-two-year-old Syrian law student who crossed ten borders to get to Gothenburg, Sweden. There is also the potential for tangible heritage consisting of buildings and archaeological sites including the critical border crossings, places of passage, detention, residence, and the marked and unmarked graves of those who died in transit. What, if any, is the responsibility of host countries to document and preserve these imprints of passage, however recent and ephemeral? 

This paper will explore these questions through case studies of actual and prospective heritage sites of the Acadians, a francophone group from the Canadian Maritimes expelled by the British in 1755 on the eve of the Seven Years’ War. The Acadian expulsion is important because it is perhaps the first modern instance of imperial policy directed toward ethnic cleansing. The Acadians were prevented from reclaiming their homeland properties after the war, which spawned the foundation of distant New Acadias in French Guiana, Haiti, Western France, Louisiana, Maine, and New Brunswick, Canada. In the late twentieth century, local activism and government support propelled some Acadian communities from obscurity to international celebrity by managing their heritage for specific social and economic outcomes. However, commercial success for members of some Acadian descent groups such as the Cajuns of Louisiana may not improve public understanding of the tragedy of the 1755 deportation and its consequences for the larger Acadian community. Archaeology is beginning to play a more active role in linking Acadian heritage with sites and landscapes, gaining support from Acadian communities in both homeland and diaspora locations. But the magnitude of the Acadian diaspora is still emerging from historical studies, and sites are lost to erosion and development before their significance is understood.

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