NEWFOUNDLAND LITERATURE – Texts of history and commemoration

Stationary studies,
programme

Instructor / Lecturer: dr Nancy Earle

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This course focuses on contemporary works of Newfoundland fiction and non-fiction that engage with history and historiography, art as commemoration, and the interconnections of narrative, memory, and identity. Some of the questions we will explore are: How and why do artists make use of history? How do historical narratives become meaningful in shaping the identities of places or peoples? What are the interconnections between narratives and public/private memory? Do written (literary) texts about historical events serve different functions than stories that are communicated through an oral tradition?

The present-day province of Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada in 1949 after a complicated history of colonial dependence on Britain and self-governance. With most of its population living in isolated rural communities and surviving in a subsistence economy, the new province was eager to modernize, spurred on by closer contact with the Americans (who established military bases throughout the region in the 1940s) and with Canada. At the same time, however, the push for modernization (industrialization, centralization, consumerism, and assimilation) was perceived as a threat to the province’s cultural identity and ways of life. This situation was among the factors that led to the “Newfoundland renaissance,” the movement to revitalize “traditional” cultural expressions and the accompanying explosion in contemporary arts activity that began in earnest in the 1970s. Since this period especially, Newfoundland artists have begun to evaluate local culture on its own terms, giving special attention to the province’s rich oral traditions rooted in distinctive dialects and the long history of song-writing and storytelling traditions. It has only been in recent decades, however, that Newfoundland’s print literature has begun to gain national and international prominence. Other focuses of this course will therefore be a study of the influence of oral traditions on the narrative practices of authors in a number of literary genres, and an examination of how Newfoundland texts (as examples of a “regional” literature of Canada) are positioned and received in the literary marketplace.