Date of Award

8-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Kristin M. Langellier

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Sandra J. Berkowitz

Abstract

The poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published in 1847, has had an impact on people for generations. The success of the poem was felt not only by its readership but also by the Acadian culture that the poem, and its heroine, came to represent. Evangeline, as character and poem, has evolved in meaning and popularity over the centuries and still plays a role in the cultural performance of contemporary Acadians. This study of Acadian cultural identity utilizes a performance approach that looks at cultural identity as a performative accomplishment in daily life. The analysis first enacts a performance historiography of the Acadian Deportation in 1755, Longfellow's poetic representation of this historical event, and the contemporary context of performing Evangeline in the Acadian diaspora. Next it examines the storytelling performances of narrative interviews with five Acadians. Three of these Acadians still live in the land of Evangeline, in Grand-Pre, Nova Scotia, and the other two live in Maine. Retellings of the story of Evangeline and reflections on the poem and character by each of the participants were analyzed for meanings which form and inform contemporary performances of Acadian cultural identity. The performance methodology allows for meanings to emerge from the embodied Acadian storytelling and to contextualize them in cultural and political spheres. The analysis reflects both differences as well as commonalities in Acadian identity performance, situated in the contexts the participants inhabit on either side of the international border. The story of Evangeline provides a common vocabulary with which participants on both sides of the border were able to address Acadian identity and the significance of the story in their lives. Differences between Canadian Acadian and Acadian-American retellings suggest how specific history and context shape contemporary performances of cultural identity. Similarities in the storytelling of all the participants indicate that despite identity being multiple and fluid over borders, that there is citationality in the narrative performances which allows for the persistence and stability of Acadian cultural identity. Acadian cultural identity is negotiated under specific and changing contexts and situations. What it means to be Acadian changes with audiences as well as with histories. This performative challenge and achievement makes it possible both to be Acadian and, at the same time, to be different from other Acadians in other locations. This study contributes to the study of how these diasporic people hold on to similar values from the past while simultaneously negotiating future performances of cultural identity as the contexts in which they live change.

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