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  • Newfoundland Studies 2.0
  • T. Stephen Henderson (bio)

AS NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR ENTERED CONFEDERATION in the middle of the 20th century, Memorial University of Newfoundland was given two daunting tasks: first, be an agent of modernization in a province that many saw as largely pre-industrial and, second, document "the culture" before forces of modernization irreparably altered it. An unprecedented rise in public funding to Memorial and external research grant programs supported the establishment of interdisciplinary studies of the province's people and environment. Newfoundland Studies, as Jeff Webb records in Observing the Outports: Describing Newfoundland Culture, 1950-1980, flourished between the 1950s and the early 1980s, making nationally and internationally recognized contributions to folklore studies, anthropology, sociology, geography and history.1 The second generation of historians working on Newfoundland and Labrador has built impressively on this foundation; government austerity measures and the passing of most of the first generation of scholars perhaps have slowed the pace of scholarly output but not diminished its quality, if we are to judge by the four books reviewed here: Webb's Observing the Outports, John C. Kennedy's Encounters: An Anthropological History of Southeastern Labrador, Corey Slumkoski's Inventing Atlantic Canada: Regionalism and the Maritime Reaction to Newfoundland's Entry into Canadian Confederation, and Raymond B. Blake's Lion or Jellyfish: Newfoundland-Ottawa Relations Since 1957.2

Webb's Observing the Outports is a collective biography-cum-institutional history of the Newfoundland Studies "crowd" at Memorial, who developed into a small industry by the 1980s and earned legitimacy in the eyes of academics and, perhaps more importantly, Newfoundlanders themselves.3 Memorial had been founded primarily as a teacher's college in 1925 and gained degree-granting status only in 1949. Webb traces its rapid growth into a university and research institution, built in large measure upon its Newfoundland Studies program.4 Observing the Outports explores the development of a discipline based in the humanities and social sciences, and, although Webb makes an effort to connect the faculty across departments and locate where cross-pollination occurred, the book's chapters are [End Page 207] largely self-contained. He begins with the humanities and the most popular product of Memorial's extensive project in Newfoundland Studies, the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (DNE). More than 30 years in the making, the DNE may have seemed a humorous novelty to many who snapped up the first edition; but lexicographers admired the respectful and careful presentation of the Newfoundland dialect. Indeed, scholarly discussions of the preparation of the DNE encouraged the public and faculty to take seriously the study of rural culture in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Modernization theory dominated the social sciences during the heyday of Newfoundland Studies, as articulated by faculty in folklore, anthropology, and sociology in particular. Many academics were calling for modernization–more capital investment, industrialization, and communication–in the province, but did so while acknowledging that existing cultural patterns would fade. Memorial's social sciences departments lacked graduate students in the early 1960s, but were able to attract foreign students with paid fellowships; these students conducted fieldwork throughout the province, usually in remote outports. Anthropologists, sociologists, and folklorists collected information on kinship, social relations, and cultural practices from informants who, Webb notes, were not always forthcoming or truthful.5 Their most famous "discovery" was mummering or janneying, a kind of Christmas charivari, and it is probable that the scholarly analysis and celebration of this practice led to its revival.6 This research seems an echo of the antimodern cultural selection that Ian McKay described as happening in Nova Scotia a few decades earlier.7 Webb maintains that in the case of Newfoundland Studies the antimodern impulse was absent in professional collectors, who wished to see the society "progress."8 Yet it is clear that selection–often shaped by preconceptions–had a profound impact on what was collected.

John C. Kennedy joined the "crowd" in Memorial's anthropology department in 1973, and spent much of his career researching in Labrador.9 His remarkably rich Encounters: An Anthropological History of Southeastern Labrador builds on work presented in his Peoples of the Bays and Headlands and establishes a centuries-old Inuit presence much farther south on the...


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