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© Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 32, no. 1, 2002 American Perspectives on La fièvre aux États-Unis, 1860–1930 : A Historiographical Analysis of Recent Writings on the FrancoAmericans in New England Sacha Richard Se pourrait-il que le faux renouveau des années 1970 n’ait été que le présage d’un vrai renouveau, lequel sera vécu dans les décennies à venir? – Armand Chartier, Les Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, 1991. The great French Canadian migrations of the latter half of the nineteenth century and the subsequent survival of Franco-American descendants have long fascinated scholars. Carroll Wright’s study of the French immigration across the border , The Canadian French in New England, circulated in the New England region as early as 1882. . The Franco-American community of New England has since been the object of numerous studies. French Canadian scholars in particular have devoted much attention to the study of la Franco-Américanie, undoubtedly because the “grande hémorragie” was a traumatic episode in their history.1 Immigration figures tell the story of a massive exodus from French Canada: recent estimates show that over 600, 000 French Canadians, out of a population of 1.5 million, left their homeland in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Their Franco-American descendants number over three million in the New England states (Chartier 383). These numbers produce a false sense of security, for despite their impressive size, the Franco-American community is in a precarious state. As Professor Calvin Veltman of the University of Québec in Montreal stated in 1980, “Il faut bien se rendre à l’évidence, la francophonie au sud du Québec apparaît comme un souvenir nostalgique” (141). Veltman’s statistics gathered from the 1976 US census illustrated the apparent linguistic assimilation: approximately ninety per cent of French-speaking New Englanders used English as their primary language of com- Canadian Review of American Studies 32 (2002) 106 munication, and the rate of desertion of the French language stood at fifty per cent (141–146).2 Moreover, the recent figures on linguistic assimilation continue to foreshadow a bleak future for the Franco-American community . Accordingly, studies on Franco-American assimilation are beginning to emerge. While scholars were initially interested in the mechanisms of Franco-American survivance, many have begun studying what they believe to be the gradual extinction of la Franco-Américanie. A number of American academics have participated in the debate surrounding the past, present, and future of the Franco-American community . While the scholarly debate on la Franco-Américanie was instigated in the 1950s, this paper analyses the major trends in Franco-American historiography since the mid 1970s. Although French Canadian scholars have produced valuable and noteworthy studies on Franco-Americans, this paper is intended to provide a better appreciation of the American standpoint on this subject, and will thus focus exclusively on the contemporary writings of American scholars. It is also important to note that for the purpose of this paper, the term Franco-American will refer to the French Canadians who immigrated to New England during the great mills migration that began in the 1860s, and ended with the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Research on the Franco-American community of New England may be on the threshold of a divisive debate for there are discernable differences of opinions vis-à-vis the perspectives and prospects for future FrancoAmerican survival. Since the 1970s, scholars studying the Franco-American community have fallen into three distinct categories. The first group, whom we could label the “survivalist” or “celebratory,” was composed largely of Franco-American themselves. The “survivalists” published large numbers of studies that celebrated the survival, and future, of the Franco-American community in the US. Such studies shed light on the lives of prominent Franco-Americans, on the strength and vitality of Franco-American cultural institutions, and on the incessant efforts to uphold survival. While aware that assimilation was taking its toll on the Franco-Americans, they felt that such gains could be reversed, or that the trend could, at the very least, be delayed. As a result, the conclusions of...


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