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Arrivals and Departures

By studying Quebec-to-Lewiston migration, they learned to think like historians

Story by Bates College September 2nd, 2016

Isn't it Unusual?

“It’s unusual to be able to study immigration from the point of departure and arrival,” says Bates historian Margaret Creighton, referring to Quebec City and Lewiston, fieldwork locations for last spring’s Short Term history course on immigration.

Required of history majors, the so-called methods course used immigration to “introduce majors to the evolution of the history profession by means of a case study,” Creighton explains.

Creighton co-taught the course with Hilmar Jensen, and they’ve got their own history: This fall marks their 25th year as faculty colleagues, she arriving in 1987 and he in 1992.

Jensen says the course is about teaching students the distinctive way that historians “think and approach subject matter” and “acquainting history majors with this different way of apprehending the world around them.”

Lewiston's Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, built in 1936 to accommodate the influx of  Roman Catholic French Canadians.

Learning the profession

“The course teaches students the basic vocabulary and the general means of approach that all historians share. It introduces them to some of the many varieties of historical interpretation, and seeks to supply a few of the necessary nuts and bolts for constructing a historical argument, as well as evaluating and using evidence properly. Among other goals, it provides the toolbox for eventually writing a sturdy senior thesis in history.” — Hilmar Jensen

Collin Richardson '18 and Andrew Veilleux '19 of Tarrytown, N.Y., lead classmates to Museum L-A on Canal Street in Lewiston.

Deep, sometimes invisible

“In Lewiston, we were able to connect the college to its deep — if sometimes invisible — roots in the local community by inviting contributions from Bates alumni, mostly alums of color, who have stayed in Lewiston after graduation to contribute public service to the community. As settlers from elsewhere, they highlighted and exemplified the course’s themes of immigrant contributions and racial/cultural diversity in a local historical context.” — Hilmar Jensen

Ben Aicher '18 of Falmouth, Maine, admires the Lewiston landscape.
Local attorney and Museum L-A founder Elliott Epstein leads a walking tour of Lewiston.

Layers of Lewiston

“The history of Lewiston has been dominated by discussions of immigrant communities, so we were able to pursue both local history and immigration history. Students appreciated looking at the ‘layers’ of Lewiston and understanding different ways that different groups, from indigenous people to English colonists to African refugees, dealt with being insiders or outsiders.” — Margaret Creighton

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“Meeting with members of the Somali community, exhibit curators, community organizers, and former mayor John Jenkins ’74 and other alumni gave us first-hand, feet-on-the-ground insights into contemporary immigration challenges and immigration politics at the local level.” — Margaret Creighton

Cristopher Hernandez Sifontes '18 of London takes a moment to view the interior of the Bates Mill, home of Museum L-A.
Andrew Veilleux '19 of Tarrytown, N.Y., takes time to read about local mill history in Museum L-A.
Bates historian Hilmar Jensen discusses photographs by Lewis Hine of children working in the mills.
Teaching assistants Madeleine McCabe '16 and Evan Molinari '16 explore Musuem L-A exhibitions.

the Quebec dream

“When I co-taught this same course a decade ago, we focused only on Lewiston history, and I dreamed of a field trip to Quebec to study Franco-Canadian emigration to Maine. At that time, however, the infrastructure of museum exhibitions and Quebecois migration specialists willing to contribute to our project didn’t exist. The recent global concern with immigration aided our cause and made this year’s focus possible and pointedly relevant to current issues.” — Hilmar Jensen

Students rest as the bus begins its early morning trip from campus to Quebec City.

Rewriting the experience

“Focusing on immigration made sense for a couple of reasons. It has always been a controversial topic in American history and thus has a rich historiography. Every generation, in other words, rewrites the history of the immigration experience. Immigration being a hot-button topic in this year’s presidential election, our students were already thinking about its social and political implications.” — Margaret Creighton

Margaret Creigihton consults with colleague Hilmar Jensen as the bus gets on the road.
After a six-hour bus trip from Lewiston, Daniel Murphy '18 steps off the coach to discover a new world in Quebec City.
At the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone, Laval University historian Martin Pâquet discusses the emigration of French Canadians to the U.S.

History is people

“The trips into Lewiston and to Quebec City taught students that historical research need not be confined to a classroom or an archive — that, at its heart, it embraces different kinds of people and places and how they remember and utilize the memories and artifacts of their past.” — Hilmar Jensen

The class stops to admire the chapel in the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone in Old Quebec City.
Quinn Hayward '18 inspects an exhibit in the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone.
Josh Leiner '18 of Baltimore and classmates admire the views from inside the walls of Old Quebec City.

Foreign no more

“Our students loved visiting Quebec, practicing French, and looking at immigration to Maine from the perspective of the ‘home’ country. Many students couldn’t believe that a place so ‘foreign’ was relatively close by.” — Margaret Creighton


Craft delivery

“One key historical ‘method’ is doing public history, and visiting museums in both Lewiston and Quebec City and analyzing the methodology behind museum exhibits gave students an opportunity to see how historical analysis and narrative are crafted for and delivered to a general audience.” — Margaret Creighton

Assigned by Jensen and Creighton, students choose an exhibition to write about during a visit to Quebec City's Musée de la Civilisation.
Heading home.

Fascinating people

“Up and out of the classroom is always a more nuanced way to get to know students as people, and Bates students invariably prove to be fascinating people, if you have the chance to engage them personally as well as academically.” — Hilmar Jensen

Footnote: Produced by the Bates Communications Office with photography by Phyllis Graber Jensen