Notes on 37th Text for Reading Field: Griffiths

Canadian History, Week 7

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4acadi

Arthur Edward Alias, gouache painting, “Court of King Louis, in France. The King gives orders concerning the departure of “émigrés” to Acadia,” dated “early twentieth century.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, online MIKAN no. 2837687.

N.E.S. Griffiths. The contexts of Acadian history, 1686-1784. Montreal and Kingston: Centre for Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992. [Google books online preview: http://bit.ly/Kn7Zp]

The central theme of N.E.S. Griffiths‘ collection of essays is the creation and endurance of a distinct community. The essays are arranged so as to supply a chronological history of social, geographical, political-economic, and cultural relations. As in other histories about the Acadians, their deportation figures as the pivot point. Preceding events supply a background — events following, a consequence. Griffiths’ observations on Acadian history and historiography point to issues that have been missed: in debates which focus on imperial policy and the blameworthiness of officials; and in studies that are primarily concerned with tracing genealogies. Griffiths seeks to effect a historiographical shift that emphasizes social description and interrogates cultural consciousness. She is interested in identity construction and in differentiating between insider and outsider perceptions of community formation. In particular she seeks to dispense with nationalist/imperialist/racialist myths and recover a greater sense of historical complexity. To that end she employs the ‘borderland’ construct. The contested space, at the overlapping edges of abstract empires and at the middle of its indigenous inhabitants concrete experience, is consistently referred to as “Acadia or Nova Scotia” – never quite all of one or of the other. The scope of her overall task is outlined only in this text although a promise is made to present full details at a later date.

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homme acadi

Jacques Grasset de Saint-Saveur, hand coloured etching and aquatint, “ Homme Acadien,” dated 1796-1804. Source: Library and Archives Canada / Bibilothèque et Archives Canada (R9266-3486) Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.


Griffiths offers a number of general observations. She is forthright in asserting that “the explanation of Acadian distinctiveness does not lie in the transference of an identity already forged in Europe.”[1] Thus allegiance was not something predetermined by European heritage. Acadians, in her view, were never entirely ‘neutral’ because they were decidedly biased towards their own community. She notes that the Acadians were farming and fishing people, and that in fact, “the sea was the support of that very agricultural life.”[2] Further, due to English control of the colony in 1654 and 1670, any hope of imposing a seigneurial structure as the basis for land ownership was defeated. As virtual ‘yeomen’, the Acadians did not harbour a strong sense of having either a vested, or an emotional, interest in anyone’s ‘nation’ but their own.

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femme acadi

Jacques Grasset de Saint-Saveur, hand coloured etching and aquatint, Femme Accadienne,” dated 1757-1810. Source: Library and Archives Canada / Bibilothèque et Archives Canada (R9266-3487) Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.


In Griffith’s description, land obviously had meaning to its inhabitants — as a home/port, that was self-developed and freely occupied. Griffiths argues that the occupants, people that have been presented as “isolated from the rest of the world, self-enclosed … inward-looking, [and] inbred,” were actually well-linked to diverse other communities, including those overseas in France and Britain, those of New England and Quebec, and those of the Micmac and Malecite peoples. She describes Acadians as welcoming of outsiders and accepting of the idea and practice of incorporating new members into their family networks.[3] They were, in her view, more intent on a process of building something new in the ‘New World’ than on a program of preserving the ‘old.’ Griffiths notes that, “At the close of the seventeenth century there was a colony known as ‘Acadia or Nova Scotia.’ A generation later, there was an Acadian people.”[4] This was a people not “over-awed by the status of those whose business it was to oversee their lives.”[5] Further, the deportation — which she characterizes as “an act of war” — did not put an end to the Acadian consciousness of community. Rather, the deportation solidified it into a definite politico-cultural stance.[6] The keynote, or keystone, to this stance was place: a place made, a place lost, and eventually – after a long and complicated period of exile and diaspora in British North America and along routes to Britain, France, the French West Indies, and Louisiana – a place found.

Additional resources:

Margaret Conrad, revue, The contexts of Acadian history, 1686-1784, par Naomi E.S. Griffiths, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 47, no 2 (1993): 278-279 [available online at érudite http://bit.ly/GZF7x]

McGill-Queen’s University Press, Contexts of Acadian History web page, http://bit.ly/TryAj.

Musée acadien de l’université de Moncton, “The Acadian Renaissance,” posted to YouTube by MuseeMcCordMuseum, 24 April 2008.


[1] N.E.S. Griffiths, The contexts of Acadian history, 1686-1784 (Montreal and Kingston: Centre for Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), xvii.

[2] Ibid., 52.

[3] Ibid., 47.

[4] Ibid., 33.

[5] Ibid., 121.

[6] Ibid., 103.

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About hallnjean

PhD in Canadian History
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