At the start of the pandemic, Julia Rhinelander was spending time listening to French-American oral histories and, each time, she could hear a world of emotions.
She could hear the tenderness in people’s voices when they talked about their family and what it was like growing up Franco in Lewiston. She could hear the ease in people’s voices as they took to singing and reflected on the critical importance of music in preserving tradition and language.
“Our world is moving so fast these days, and sitting down to listen to someone tell their life story is a powerful way to slow down and be present,” Rhinelander said. “Before we know it, our parents and grandparents will be gone, and who can tell their stories if we don’t listen?” I think this is a lesson we all need to learn, regardless of our heritage.
It is this inspiration – this desire to preserve Franco-American stories – that led to the creation of the podcast, Franco-American course (Franco-American paths).
The podcast is presented by the Franco-American Collection at Lewiston-Auburn College at the University of Southern Maine. The idea came about after a series of conversations between Rhinelander and Anna Faherty, two USM employees and longtime podcast fans. Another USM employee, Maureen Perry, who works with Faherty at Lewiston-Auburn College, was later added to the team.
“When we started working remotely, I was tasked with transcribing and translating oral histories so that we could add them to our digital repository. I kept thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ There are some really amazing stories out there, ”said Rhinelander, USM Access Services Librarian in Portland.
The podcast, which releases a new episode on the last Thursday of each month, is dedicated to celebrating Franco-American history and culture in Maine. The three podcast hosts work from written and audiovisual documents kept at the Franco-American Collection.
“We want to amplify the Franco and Francophone voices in Maine and make sure our collection grows with the community it represents,” Rhinelander said. The collection is open to the public and was created to allow the public to explore Franco-American culture, history and identity.
They released their pilot episode on Spotify on May 27. It highlights the work done in collections such as that of USM to preserve and protect oral histories and artefacts that document Franco’s experience.
In this episode, they invited two guests to speak: Dr. Mary Rice-DeFosse, professor of French and Francophone studies at Bates College and co-author of the book “Les Franco-Américains de Lewiston-Auburn”, and Doris Bonneau, the treasurer of the board of directors of the Franco-American collection, which serves to represent the interests of USM and the Franco-American community.
The three women have lots of ideas for future episodes.
Perry said they plan to discuss topics including Acadian music and the experiences of Franco-American veterans. She is responsible for a section of the podcast called La Collection Parle, where she selects written material from the collection that falls within the theme of the month and reads them aloud.
Faherty said they wanted to do an article on parades and racket bands, and French newspapers like The messenger and The Defender which were once published in Lewiston. She is in charge of the Archivist’s Corner, the segment of their exhibition where they showcase the artefacts from the collection.
The diversity of the collection has given the three a place for creativity and inspiration.
“It feels like there are endless possibilities,” Rhinelander said. “Since the show’s launch, we’ve had a flood of interest from academics and community members who want to participate in oral history interviews. It really feels like there’s excitement and momentum and a very deep creative well to tap into.
The next episode features one of Rhinelander’s favorite oral histories. These are two sisters, HÉlène Sylvain and Irène Mercier, evoking their childhood in Lewiston.
“There are times when I’m bent over laughing, they’re so funny together; you can hear their proximity in the recording, ”Rhinelander said. “There is a special moment when one of the sisters described the feeling of fresh snow falling cracking under her feet on the way to church that was so moving and so transporting. I think any kid who grew up in Maine knows that feeling and that sound.
Faherty added that she would like to feature a locally published magazine called Seduce, which was published in the 1940s and featured photos and biographies of the locals, with the aim of introducing the people of Lewiston to their neighbors.
According to Faherty, the hope is that the podcast will reach “all kinds of people” in the community: people who identify as Franco-Americans or French-Canadians who might want to be interviewed; non-Franco-Americans in the community who are interested in this history or who are learning more about aspects of Franco-American culture; and students, especially those on the Portland and Gorham campuses at the University of Southern Maine.
“One of the things I try to do is get students to come to the collection and use our archival material and tell their friends that this interesting resource exists,” Faherty said.
To start promoting the collection to students, they posted a photo of a stuffed sheep on social media. It was the mascot of the annual Saint John the Baptist parade in Lewiston. For over a century this was one of Lewiston-Auburn’s biggest festivals.
Women are starting to make progress on social media and their podcast. They have 73 followers on Facebook.
“From the feedback I received, many listeners were from the Franco community and the university community, and that includes the area where these groups overlap. According to Anchor, each of our 255 plays to date is primarily from the United States, with a few outliers in Canada and Europe, ”Rhinelander said. Anchor is a free platform that allows users to create podcasts and see how many listeners an episode gets.
Perry, the research and instruction librarian for USM who works closely with the collection, pointed to the perfect timing behind the podcast’s development.
“It was one of those things. The stars aligned. Determine where our collection could benefit from a podcast, what we could present in our collection in a podcast, and our interest in podcasting. . . everything lined up, ”Perry said.
She added: “Miscellaneous stories matter, and if people have material they want to donate to the collection or an oral history that they would like to share, we hope they will consider us, and researchers throw in a a look. to our materials online and contact us to research our collection. We want people to keep listening and spreading the word.
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