The Current State of Louisiana Digital History
The end of March found me escaping the snow-draped landscapes of my East Lansing, Michigan home to attend the 2014 Louisiana Historical Association (LHA) Conference in Hammond where I was to accept the Hugh. F. Rankin Prize. At the conference, I had the opportunity to survey the footprint of digital history within the LHA community, and to discuss and pitch my project digitally mapping the southern television stations from 1942 through 1965. What I discovered is that 2014 was a significant year for Louisiana digital history. Not only were impressive digital projects present at the conference showcasing various methods for visualizing historical narratives, but also present were representatives of several archives to discuss their strategies for digitizing materials.
The most significant digital-history-related announcement at the conference was University of Louisiana’s project Acadiana Historical., which was formally praised and recognized by the LHA. Acadiana Historical is an interactive digital experience that maps out South Louisiana’s unique cultural history, using a digital mapping interface merged with a blog. The project invites viewers on various digital tours through unique locations in South Louisiana, allowing users to interactively explore South Louisiana history and culture. Not only is the project available on the web, but it also hosts applications on both the IOS and the Android appstores which allow tourists to augment their experience in Louisiana with a digital tour guide. The project, which includes the work of Meredith Melancon, Eric Scott, Anne Mahoney, and Clare Robbins, builds on Omeka and Curatescape’s infrastructure to significant success. Project members include Meredith Melancon, Eric Scott, Anne Mahoney, and Clare Robbins, as well as project organizer and director, Robert Carriker, head of the History, Geography, and Philosophy department at University of Louisiana.
Aside from digital projects, there were also panels that evaluated the overall state of digital history. One such panel examined archivists’ roles within the digitization community, discussing new digitization projects and strategies archivists have undertaken to make their materials more accessible to the public. Leon Miller, head of the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University, began this discussion with an introduction to the role of a digital archivist. Tulane University apparently was one of the first Louisiana education organizations to begin digitizing their holdings, and the progress they have made is impressive: digitized collections include The Carnival Collection, The Louisiana Menu and Restaurant Collection, The Victor H. and Margaret G. Schiro Exhibit, Leon Trice Louisiana Political Photographs, Lippmann Collection of Louisiana Postal Aviation History, Lippman Collection of Civil War Postal Covers, Louisiana Political Ephemera, and the Natalie V. Scott Exhibit. Next, Laura Charney discussed the Louisiana Newspapers Project (LNP), which was recently funded to add 27 new newspapers into the National Digital Newspaper Program. The LNP is funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities to digitize and provide free access to United States newspapers. Finally, Centenary College of Louisiana presented their digital collections, which include their Course Catalogs from 1852-2013, their yearbooks from 1922-2012, their student newspapers from 1959-1990, their literary magazines which include the Centenary Review (vol. 1; 1949), the Insights (vol. 1-5; 1962-1967), their alumni magazines: Volumes (1925-2005) and Volumes (2006-2010), and other university publications.
The progress made in the state to digitize holdings in the above-discussed areas is heartening, of course, but when questioned about their film holdings, each archivist with whom I spoke expressed frustration with the current state of copyright law and its limitations on film’s use. In many ways, Louisiana archivists are reluctant to move forward with digitization processes for film because of concerns of liability if that material were used against the owner’s interests. So while digitization clearly has been growing in popularity within the LHA community, the sad fact of the matter, it seems, is that film is being excluded.