Protecting cultural forms through displacement; New Scotland in Cape Breton Island: Diane Williams, ‘Women’s Roles as Tradition-Bearers: Equality and Revitalization’, Symposium Of University Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE), 2015


Abstract: At the very core of anthropology is the ongoing question of how cultures develop, change, and adapt. Cultural perspectives on gender roles, for example, can change based on decisions made by both men and women as the members of emigrant populations navigate ways to survive in new environments. For centuries, the contributions of Scottish women as active tradition-bearers in Scotland have often been overshadowed by a focus on the many public roles of men. Since arriving in Cape Breton Island in the mid-eighteenth century, the culture of the original Scottish settlers has experienced significant changes relative to the political and economic changes in the larger context of the region. Previous research from the 1970s predicted the Gaelic language and culture would disappear from the island by the year 2000. My research examines the changing roles of contemporary Cape Breton Highland women (1950 to 2014) in the maintenance and transmission of Scottish culture and traditions, and challenges the assumptions of previous scholars that the language and culture are dying out. Data were collected over a seven-week period through participant-observation at cultural events, archival research at the Beaton Institute, and thirteen face-to-face interviews with women of Gaelic descent. The analysis clearly indicates that not only have women’s roles as tradition-bearers changed, but their contributions are being acknowledged and supported by the Gaelic community in the movement towards maintenance and revitalization of the language and the culture.

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