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Interview with Salem State Professor Elizabeth Blood on 'The French Heritage Project'

Salem State Professor Elizabeth Blood has been working for the past three years on building a collection of English translations of texts documenting the rich history of Franco-Americans (Americans of French-Canadian descent) in Massachusetts and compiling them in the Digital Commons Repository at Salem State.

The project, titled “The French-Canadian Heritage Project” aims to “make the history and culture of French North Americans accessible to the widest possible audience, so that the rich cultural legacy of this population may be studied, appreciated, and transmitted to future generations,” Blood writes in the introduction to the collection. This past week, the Center for Research and Creative Activities (CRCA) had the privilege to speak with Blood on this incredible research. 

Blood became interested in Franco-American history in Massachusetts about the time she arrived in Salem to begin teaching at SSU in 2003. She was introduced to the Richelieu club in Salem, which is a French speaking club that was founded in 1965 by Franco-Americans in Salem who wanted to keep their French language and culture alive. The club is still active today and meets once a month at the Hawthorne Hotel to speak French together (during the pandemic they have even been hosting Zoom meetings).

Blood joined the group and began learning about the rich history of Franco-Americans in Salem and decided to try and capture some of the stories of those who grew up in Salem in the French community. Thus begin the first of Blood’s project which she completed in collaboration with her colleague at Salem State, Professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello. The project, titled the “Franco-American Salem Oral History Series,” part of the Franco-American Heritage Project, was a series of recordings and interviews of French-Canadians about their memories of growing up in Salem and speaking French. Transcripts of the recordings can be viewed in the digital common’s repository from the Berry Library and Learning Commons, where the original recordings are held.

Then Blood was approached by Alan Earls from Via Appia Press in Cambridge, about a book by Félix Gatineau titled, History of Franco-Americans of Southbridge, Massachusetts which was published in 1919 and was originally written in French. The book offers a glimpse of what life was like for French-Canadians in Southbridge 100 years ago, chronicling the lives of the town’s French-speaking immigrants and their American-born children. Earls asked Blood to do a translation of Gatineau’s original text which now exists in a print version through Via Appia Press, but also in digital form in the Salem State Digital Commons. 

Inspired by the idea of continuing to record the history of Franco-Americans in Massachusetts, Blood set out to do more translation projects including: “A History of Saint Joseph’s Parish in Salem, Massachusetts: 1873-1948,” which looks at St. Joseph’s Parish (the people as well as the structures) and its role the lives of French-Canadians and their descendants in Salem. Next was a translation of L.P. Turcotte's “Histoire de l'Ile d'Orleans,” originally published in French in 1867, which gives the English-speaking descendants of the early French colonists an inside look at the lives of 17th-century settlers. These projects, as well as many others exist and can be viewed in the Salem State Digital Commons Repository.

Currently, Blood is working on the histories of Franco-Americans in both Worcester and Fall River, which, for now, Blood believes will be the final histories of Massachusetts Franco-American communities in the series. 

Center for Research and Creative Activity (CRCA)
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