'Heartlands/Pays du coeur': Geohumanities and Quebec's 'regional' fiction

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Inst for Humanities


The proposed research has a thematic strand (1) and a methods strand (2), as outlined below:

1) It looks at representations of Quebec's 'regions'--spaces and places outside Montreal--in post-1960 fiction in French and English. From the period of modern day nationalist assertion popularly dated as beginning in 1960 until around 10 years ago, 'hors-Montreal' (rest of Quebec, or ROQ) was marginalised in terms of literary production and criticism, as well as cultural and political debates. What became known as Quebec's Quiet Revolution sought to effect a break with the past, rejecting a pan-Canadian cultural nationalism in favour of a territorial nationalism which cast Quebec as the sole francophone 'home' within Canada. Symbol of a new, modern Quebec nation, Montreal increasingly became the preferred setting for fiction (Nepveu and Marcotte 1992, 7) and literary criticism. With the exception of a small handful of works (e.g. Laforest 2016, 2010; Sing 1995; Warwick 1968), analyses of literary representations of spaces and places outside of Quebec's main city were relegated to the occasional book chapter. Since 2000, however, 'hors-Montreal' has attracted renewed public interest with respect to politics and culture. In literature, Montreal is being displaced as authors increasingly opt to set their novels in smaller cities, villages, rural and 'wilderness' spaces (Archibald 2012, 17). Whilst this is particularly true of French-language authors, some English-language fiction on and of 'the regions' exists (e.g. Penny, Keightley).

Looking beyond the discipline of Quebec Studies, the project considers trends in 'new regional writing' in the UK and North America (e.g. New Writing North). It also explores wider questions around the relationships between the urban and non-urban, the city and 'regions'. Writing in 1973, Raymond Williams argued that the boundaries between the country and the city were not clear-cut (1975 (1973): 1). Debates within rural geography (Cloke 2006, Edensor 2006) highlight the ways in which such boundaries are increasingly blurred, partly due to globalisation. 'The regions' have, of course, asserted themselves in recent years in other places besides Quebec, notably in the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (2016) and the U.S presidential elections (2016).

2) The project aims to draw on, and develop further 'walking studies' (Lorimer 2011, Morgan 2016) methods and methodologies on which I have been working since 2014, and which belong to the subdiscipline of Geohumanities. Broadly conceived, Geohumanities brings together spatial concerns in Humanities and Social Sciences. Creativity is often used to facilitate exchange and participation (see, e.g. Cresswell 2015: 7). 'Heartlands/pays du coeur' draws on methods from literary geographies, geopoetics, psychogeography and other walking, writing and creative practices, combining these with methods from oral history and geography. It will produce and co-produce a variety of knowledge forms. These include academic outputs such as a journal article and conference papers, and non-academic outputs like creative writing texts (where 'writing' encompasses a variety of practices, not all of them word-based), readings, a dance, a digital map and an audio-walk.

In terms of future legacies, the project will serve as preparation for leading an inter- and multi- disciplinary project on walking (defined as a range of practices, some of which are bipedal), well-being and regions.

Planned Impact

'Heartlands/Pays du coeur' has immediate and longer-term impacts for site-responsive creative practitioners, community members, writers, publishers, readers, tourists and tourist organisations. The project has longer-term impacts in its development and application of innovative methods which can be adapted to a variety of contexts.

The project will benefit:

(a) creative practitioners. The map, audio-walk and geopoetics workshop will enable practitioners of a range of creative arts (writing, sound art, dance) to exchange knowledge across languages and cultures to devise new ways of producing embodied, site-responsive work and engaging publics. The project therefore offers the potential for changes to artistic practices during and beyond its particular lifetime.

(b) community members. The project offers the opportunity for community members to share their experiential knowledge of the region via a workshop and oral history interviews. Research practices and methods will be shared with community leaders who can use them with other participants to foster reflective engagements with local places, as well as awareness and understanding of regional histories and identities.

(c) published writers, writers' organisations and publishers, libraries and bookstores. The digital map will increase the visibility of Quebec's 'regional' fiction. The map, audio-walk and interviews with published authors can be used by writers, writers' organisations and publishers for promotional purposes.

(d) readers. The digital map will enable a shift in popular understandings of Quebec's literary landscape as centred on Montreal.

(e) leisure walkers and tourists. The audio-walk will foster 'deep' engagements with the Eastern Townships, offering residents of and visitors to the region opportunities to learn about how it is represented in prose whilst they move through the physical landscape. In turn, this will foster a consideration of how imaginary and material geographies inform each other.

(f) tourist and regional organisations. The digital map and audio-walk will offer virtual introductions to the the region and its authors and can be used for promotional purposes.


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