The Francophone North Atlantic: Identity, Religiosity, and Trauma in French Canada

Brisson, Claire-Marie, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Horne, Janet, French, University of Virginia

“The Francophone North Atlantic: Identity, Religiosity, and Trauma in French Canada” explores the confluences between intranational and transnational identification, collective memory, and religiosity in the early twentieth century. Previous scholarship has investigated the development of Quebecois and French-Canadian identity following the events of The Quiet Revolution at length. The present work views French Canadian history from the time that preceded the establishment of the term Québécois as a dominant cultural identifier, instead exploring the factors that led North American Francophones to begin the process of narrating their space and place within Canada and the United States. Before 1960, the ethnonym 'Canadien' was applied broadly to any North American Francophone individual or community in Canada and the United States - a dramatic contrast to the naming practices of today. Examining the factors that led to changing how these groups self-identified and their connected histories points to the still-modest literature that investigates ‘pre-Quebecois’ identity.

The breadth of cultural signposts that were edified in the early twentieth century points to an overlooked cultural turn in French-speaking North America. In a world of competing national narratives and jingoistic overtures to war, North American Francophones in Canada and the United States defined themselves within and against global religious and cultural tendencies through their interaction with what this research defines as the Francophone North Atlantic, a newly envisioned sphere of reciprocal intellectual, religious, and cultural influence. The rhizomatic nature of French-Canadian and Franco-American identity weaves together a loosely joined Francophone diaspora in North America, whose seat of intellectual and social change was spearheaded by scholars, church leaders, journalists, and politicians primarily based in the Province of Québec, whose influence reached a transfrancophone audience in North America.

This dissertation challenges conventional understandings of French-Canadian culture as bounded solely within the borderlands of Québec or Canada through careful examination of various transnational and intranational trends. The topics tackled in this project include an investigation into identity markers and symbolism from 1900 to the beginning of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the cultural attachment to and eventual rejection of religiosity by Francophone North Americans, and war as a traumatic catalyst that further emphasized the need for the construction of a separate identity in postwar North America. Though primary resources used in this work largely hinge on Québec-based cultural products, I argue that pre-Quiet Revolution Québec was more prone to identifying their own struggles with a broader North American Francophone identity, rather than have it confined to the borders of the Province of Québec.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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