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Rich culture

Researcher recognized for bringing Acadian dance traditions online


By Susan Flanagan

Dr. Meghan Forsyth, adjunct professor in Memorial’s School of Music, whose research focuses on the expressive culture of the Acadian diaspora, has won the Prix Gilbert-Buote.

Dr. Meghan Forsyth with Dansez museum exhibition, 2016
Dr. Meghan Forsyth with the Dansez museum exhibition in 2016.
Photo: Submitted

The prize, which recognizes the most significant contribution to the promotion of Acadian history and culture on Prince Edward Island, was awarded for Dansez! Acadian Dance Traditions on Prince Edward Island, Past and Present, an exhibition she curated and wrote with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Helen Creighton Folklore Society, in partnership with the Musée acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Acadian Museum of PEI) and the Fédération culturelle de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Acadian Cultural Federation of PEI).

The Dansez project has two components: a bilingual, multimedia museum exhibition which was displayed at the Musée acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard until June 2017 and the website.

“The idea for the project was planted nearly 10 years ago when I began my doctoral research in PEI’s Acadian community,” said Dr. Forsyth, who is also project co-ordinator for the Research Centre for the Study of Music Media and Place (MMaP) and director of the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music at Memorial.

“As I listened to people’s stories and found incredible archival recordings, photographs and videos, I often thought about other people in the community with whom I would like to share them. We were able to dig up and digitize old cassettes and video reels from personal and public archives and make them accessible to a broad audience.”

Awareness and celebration

Dr. Forsyth says that thanks to the team of people involved in the project, the exhibition and website is bringing awareness to an important, but often overlooked, part of Canada’s cultural history and it is helping to celebrate the vibrant Acadian community.

“It means so much to me that the project has resonated with islanders and visitors,” she said.

Dr. Forsyth is exploring possibilities on and off PEI for mounting sections of the exhibition, which includes several iPads, dance platforms, projected videos and display items.

“Few scholars have the unique ability to make scholarly insights come alive for general audiences.” — Dr. Harris M. Berger

The online exhibition enables users locally and globally to interact with these dance and music traditions and their practitioners through audiovisual material, still photographs and essays by Dr. Forsyth, PEI historian Georges Arsenault and Montreal-based ethno-choreographer and step-dancer Pierre Chartrand, among others.

“Dr. Forsyth is an extraordinary researcher,” said Dr. Harris M. Berger, professor of music and folklore and Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology and the director of the School of Music’s MMaP Research Centre.

“She has a deep knowledge of the dance traditions of Atlantic Canada, and few scholars have the unique ability to make scholarly insights come alive for general audiences. This prize is richly deserved.”

In 2008 Dr. Forsyth was also awarded the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation award for research in Canadian music.

Before coming to Memorial as a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in 2011, Dr. Forsyth taught at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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