Thinking about (Franco-American) heritage

Are you Franco-American?
No…?
Are you sure??

If you live in Maine and have a french last name, it is pretty likely that some portion of your family history trails back to Quebec or other parts of Canada, whether you realize it or not. After all, we share more border with Canada than with the U.S., and you haven’t always needed a passport to cross over those lines. Also, in the past we were a much less settled society – if you needed to move away to find work it wasn’t as big a deal – people moved around quite a bit, actually (the New England genealogists’ lament!)

One of my college professors (I was an undergrad in Maine) used to love to tell the story of how, when she asked for a show of hands amongst her students one day the number “who were french”,  she only got a few hands. But then when she asked who had a memérè and pepérè (french grandmother and grandfather) most of the hands went up. These second, third, fourth generation Franco-Americans just never saw themselves as having any kind of particular culture or heritage, besides being Mainers (which is it’s own thing, for sure…but that is a different blog post).

For others though, being Franco was an important and distinguishing part of their identity throughout their lives – in terms of their family, or their community, or both. In the radio piece above, we hear scholar and journalist Jane Martin (a Biddeford native now living in Montreal) talk to her own family members about their Franco identity, while reflecting upon her identity as well. The piece eloquently explores the challenges of moving between different cultural worlds and identities – French versus English; American versus Canadian.

As for me – I had one grandparent who immigrated to Maine from Canada as a teenager. But my Grampa married a Yankee girl, only ever spoke English, and was about as all-American as they come – I didn’t even know he was a naturalized citizen until after his death. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized I had any kind of Canadian connection at all – and at that point, I woke up to the myriad little things my paternal grandfather did which were part of his Franco self.

So how about you? Did you come from a strongly grounded Franco family like Jane? Or are you french in name only, like me? It has been interesting but a little sad too, since it’s too late for me to talk to my Grampa about his life – but maybe it’s not too late for you. So go have those conversations, and begin your journey of self-discovery – whatever your heritage may be. Bonne chance!

The Langlais Art Trail = art in your backyard

Who? BERNARD LANGLAIS (1921-1977) was an award-winning Maine artist and sculptor.

What? THE LANGLAIS ART TRAIL is, in essence, an art installation on a state-wide scale. A network of over 50 institutions in over 40 Maine communities allow the public to access and enjoy thousands of works created by this prolific and important Maine artist. Made possible by the Colby College Museum of Art and the Kohler Foundation, Inc.

When? FOREVER! The Langlais Art Trail is a permanent installation, and can be accessed whenever the host locations are open to the public. (Note: Some locations are free, some charge admission–best to check before you go.)

Where? ALL OVER MAINE. But your local Langlais Art Trail participant is Biddeford’s McArthur Library. The wild and whimsical pieces are on permanent display in our Children’s Room, to be enjoyed by art lovers of all ages!

Why? Because access to art makes us all richer people, and this trail gives many opportunities to access art for free. And not just any art, but works by an important and well-regarded artist, who did his own thing in his own way. Art historian Daniel Kany sums it thusly: “…it’s undeniable that the tremendously talented Langlais changed the Maine art landscape and that his late sculptures successfully achieve a raw and intentionally primitive power.”

To Learn More:

Boston Globe: Building an art trail through Maine

Portland Press Herald: The whole Bernard Langlais at the Colby Museum of Art

 

Bernard Langlais at the Colby College Museum of Art
Bernard Langlais at the Colby College Museum of Art

“Bernard Langlais at the Colby College Museum of Art”…  borrow from your local library, or purchase at your favorite local bookseller.

A little inspiration for the newest townies…

Biddeford is in the middle of something big…we all know it, it’s been years in the making, and it’s pretty cool. There’s so much hubub, building, renovation, and yes demolition! going on nowadays…the city is changing before our eyes. But you know, it’s not the first time this has happened. Biddeford has always been a dynamic place, from fishing village to bustling lumber, milling and trading hub to textile manufacturing mecca. No matter what or whom has been at the heart of Biddeford, the face of the town is ever growing and changing. It’s one of the most interesting parts of my job, to piece together places in their many iterations, and then finding some way to share that with the community.

I’ve been cataloging a large number of old images of streets, homes and buildings lately, and thinking about all the renovating and upgrading and new construction going on downtown and elsewhere. It came to me that maybe you all would like to see some of the beautiful old dwellings which have graced our streets in the past. Maybe these images will inspire some of you newcomers in your renovations and rebuilding work, I hope they do! And if you have any questions or want to see more, you can feel free to contact us at the library or take some time to poke around the Local History Catalog (which is updated on a regular basis with new materials). Enjoy!!!

PS. Please excuse any mistakes made in my descriptions–my enthusiasm far outweighs my architectural expertise. Feel free to share what you know about this stuff!

Image 2439. Home on Center Street, Biddeford.
Image 2439. Home on Center Street, Biddeford.
Postcard Carr 619. Homes along Elm Street near South Street (200 block).
Postcard Carr 619. Homes along Elm Street near South Street (200 block). (Recognize these homes?? The mansard roofed building is now white, and the little New Englander has a big porch attached to the face of it now. Look at those trees!)
carr0343
Postcard Carr 343. This is after the Harmon’s Corner fire, but see those homes? That’s the Methot Insurance building on the corner of Main and Elm, and the cute little cape next door is where the rental store is now.
Image 3008.  A home in Biddeford, circa 1877. The location is unknown, but this is a great example of a nice, simple home. Check out the pretty lamp on the corner!
Image 3008. A home in Biddeford, circa 1877. The location is unknown, but this is a great example of a nice, simple home. Check out the pretty lamp on the corner!
Apartment building, Elm Street and Emery Court (St. Joseph's Street), circa 1910.
Postcard bid.gen.039. I love this building! It was next door to St. Joseph’s Church, now it’s the parking lot. Beautiful windows and details, and check out those great buildings around it!
Image 0772. Apartment buildings on Main Street @ Elm Street (across from St. John's Building).
Image 772. Apartment buildings on Main Street , near St. John’s Building. Check out those great bay windows!

NEA Fall Symposium

Friends, I was lucky enough to present at New England Archivists’ fall symposium “Archives in Action” this past weekend. The symposium took place on the gorgeous campus of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, and the presentation was all about creating online exhibits using free and open-source tools and software. I had the distinct pleasure to co-present on this topic along with colleagues from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and all of our slides will be available via the NEA website. But I also wanted to share my stuff right here, along with some bonus links and maybe a thought or two.

My section of the presentation was specifically about using Omeka.net, which is a free exhibit creation site created developed by the folks at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I really just wanted to talk to archivists about what they can do with Omeka.net, and share my experiences and *numerous* mistakes, erm, “learning moments” (that’s the kinder, gentler term for screw-ups, right?) Basically it’s a user-friendly, well documented tool; and for the bargain price of nothing…well you might as well give it a shot!

Online Exhibits on a Shoestring – Omeka.net
(PRESENTATION SLIDES) (HANDOUT)

Galveston, Texas amateur newspaper 1873

Bonus Material!
The people at Omeka.net (and Omeka.org for that matter) have done a tremendous job of putting together resources about their products and comprehensive help pages, as well as project planning resources. I’m linking to some that I think are tops for archives thinking of using this resource.

*    (SPECIFIC TIPS FOR:  ARCHIVES LIBRARIES MUSEUMS)   *   (“DIGITAL HISTORY: A GUIDE TO GATHERING, PRESERVING, AND PRESENTING THE PAST ON THE WEB”)    *   (GETTING STARTED-THE BASICS)   *   (GET INSPIRED! THE OMEKA.NET SHOWCASE)    *

I also wanted to include some of the work-arounds I was pondering out loud during my presentation: if someone is able to use these successfully I’d love to hear about it! Idea 1–You are on the free (limited space) plan and run out of space. You want to revise your site though, keep it fresh, add some new material. Try leaving the ITEM RECORD you created for the stuff you wish to remove with a note to contact library for image access, then delete the attached image/document/AV file. You’ll carve out a pocket of space to add new stuff while leaving the intellectual access for the item you removed. Idea 2–Easy contact form/analytics tool: use Google Docs to create a form or guest book or the like to embed in a Simple Page. The forms have built-in analytics so you can use that to make an effort towards metrics. Idea 3–Make sure to add the social media tool to your site. This makes it very simple to share your content with your users–make it part of your calendar/routine–image of the month or some such.

Final Thoughts…
One of the attendees made a great point to me after the presentation, asking why she should bother using Omeka.net when her state already provides an excellent collection sharing site. A great question! Many states now have active and well-supported programs for digitizing and sharing your history. In this case, the biggest point was that the collection I shared using Omeka.net was one that was national + international in scope, and fell outside of the parameters of our state history site’s local focus. So really the only way for me to share this material as a collection was by using a vehicle such as Omeka.net. If your institution has one or more of these kinds of collections, and you wish to share them widely, then a tool such as Omeka.net may be the right choice for you.

Good luck…and have FUN!

Sharing Some of the Juicy Local News…from 1895

Whenever I get into the old newspapers, I am usually distracted by the other bits and bobs I come across–occupational hazard. Depending on the state of our microfilm readers, I’ll either print out the little gems or make a note of them for later. In the past 8 years I’ve amassed a pretty good pile of tidbits. I’m trying to think of ways to share this information in a meaningful way, and haven’t really come up with anything great yet. If anyone has seen anything cool or has a great idea for disseminating this stuff I’d love to hear about it. Other than that I’ll surely be creating yet another massive index, or adding to the already massive history indexes we have going…which is better than hoarding all this great information, in my book.For example here is a set of three things I have jotted on the back of a printout:

Emmet Baseball Club : (photo) 5-17-1895 : Biddeford Weekly Journal : page 1

Kate Douglas Wiggin-Riggs : (photos) 5-24-1895 : Biddeford Weekly Journal : page 1 – marriage, career

Murder of James M. Hurd, 7 Oak Street, by son Alfred : 12-13-1895 : page 1 [Biddeford Weekly Journal]

I mean, cool stuff right? And there is so much of this. We’ll keep plugging away, but seriously if anyone has any great ideas I am all ears. Cheers!