The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History.
Christopher Hodson spent ten years in the research and writing of The Acadian Diaspora and he has provided his readers a welcome introduction to this intriguing work. He has taken the trouble to state explicitly his aim for this book. It was "to resurrect not one but two lost worlds, and to show the depth of their entanglements. The first, of course, is the face-to-face world the Acadians made as they shuttled from place to trying place--a world of loss, change and frequently, malice among one-time compatriots, all of whom confronted exiles as they strained to tailor themselves to suit the demands of the powerful, people-moving states that surrounded them. The second is the wide ranging world of imperial experimentation that flourished during the 1750s, 1760s, and 1770s--a world that made and remade the Acadians, even as it was, in part, made and remade by them" (p. 7). This ambition required Hodson to bring together an analyses of the differing imperial policies of France and England during these decades while, at the same time, to describe the economic and social change moving through the trans-Atlantic world as well as the major events of Acadian experience during these years of exile. It also meant that he master a wide range of primary sources and an equal amount of secondary materials and have the ability to organize all this material in way that it would make his ideas clear to his readers.
Hodson has succeeded to an extraordinary extent in his endeavour. His narrative is a double helix, twisting together the experience of individual Acadians with the history of the development of government policies and with the reaction of communities to the implementation by officials of such policies. He discusses the question of Acadian neutrality in the face of demands by both England and France through the biographies of people who had to respond to pressure from both sides. Similarly, stories of Acadian survival in the varied circumstances of exile are told through the reaction of individuals and their families to their situation. And their experiences were many and various for while, in the first instance, exile scattered the Acadians into the other British North American colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, for many this was only the beginning of much longer voyages. For example, a number of those sent to Maryland, south Carolina and Georgia went on to Santo Domingo and some, later still to Louisiana or British Honduras. Most of those who were first landed in Virginia were sent on to England and later to France. Many of these sailed from Nantes in 1785 for Louisiana at the expense of Spain, whose territory Louisiana then was. It is these travels and other similar voyages that allow Hodson to bind together the history of the Acadians in exile with an examination of such a broad canvas of European and North American events.
The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History is an important and original work. What reservations I have stem from the limited scope that Hodson appears to have had to explore some ideas more fully and provide more detailed references. It is a matter of minor irritation that instead of a traditional bibliography, with comments on particular sources and seminal works, there are short references within the endnotes. A much more serious matter is the little space given to any discussion of the social and political heritage that Acadians carried with into exile. There is little sustained commentary on the way in which their heritage of coping with both the French and British imperial powers before 1755 helped them to argue with the authorities they encountered in their years of exile. The fact that the Acadians were used to a system of political leadership from within their villages, which provided them with experienced and trusted spokesmen, was invaluable in their exile, as was the fact that, while basically a French speaking people, many knew English. Ideally, this. ought to have been a work in two volumes, allowing Christopher Hodson the room to expand on his clear sense of the tension between the choices an individual makes and the forces which structure those choices. He acknowledges that the Acadians were much more than puppets, moved by forces beyond their control. Missing, however, is a sustained analysis of the way in which, in so many varied circumstances, the Acadians proved resistant to immediate assimilation by the surrounding communities. The scholarship and the broad, sweeping vision demonstrated in this work provide a tantalising glimpse of what Hodson might bring to future publications.
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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