I have always had a passion for culture, not just my own, but all cultures of the world. As a young child I found myself drawn to museums, festivals, dances, powwows, and any other event that allowed me the opportunity to learn about different cultures through the eyes of those who it belongs to. It was not until I was much older I realized that all of these things fall under a field that is called Public History. As a 2011 Candidate for the Masters of Arts in Heritage Resources (MAHR) program at Northwestern State University (Natchitoches, Louisiana), and a Graduate Assistant For the Williamson Museum at Northwest State University, I have had plenty of opportunities to sharpen my skills in Public History. This program has allowed me to explore the fields of Interpretation, Oral History, Ethnography, Anthropology, Archeology, Exhibit design, and Museum curation.
Our society is built on the different cultures that are held within its borders. These cultures have their own stories. Through my studies I have acquired skills that enable me to help preserve, interpret, and document these stories in a way that accurately and honestly conveys significance to the outside world.
Exhibits are an excellent way to convey the past in the present. Exhibits have the ability to display the life and lifestyles of any particular person or people, at any particular time in a complete and concise manner.
I have takes classes in museum studies and exhibit design, and have assisted in two exhibits, one at Oakland Plantation, and one at Williamson Museum. At Oakland I worked on the pantry exhibit in the main house, and at Williamson Museum I worked on a retrospective exhibit of Basket day. The purpose of the exhibit is to remember the artists who have come and help make Basket day a success over the decades. This was accomplished by utilizing photos and artifacts that different artisans donated to the museum over the years.
I am currently working on an exhibit for my project thesis. The title of the exhibit is “Why We Dance” and I will utilize different pictures from the four organizations that I have interviewed to capture their different reasons for hosting and participating in powwows. I will also use artifacts that give a general idea of what type of regalia a spectator would see at a powwow.
Oral history and Ethnography is a wonderful way to preserve valuable information in numerous communities. I have completed one oral history project and am currently working on another one for the thesis portion of my program. The completed oral history project is entitled “Surviving Through Lean Times” and this project was for the Louisiana Folk life Festival. This oral history project was focused on the different ways people coped during the Great Depression, and consisted of interviews from people who experienced the Great Depression at different ages and stages in life. for this project I conducted 2 interviews, One with a Mr. Eddie Powell, who grew up in a suburb in Shreveport, Louisiana, and one with a Mr. Clifton Woods Jr., who grew up sharecropping in Arkansas. The views that these two men had on the same national crisis was eye opening.
The other project I am currently working on is titled “The Evolution of the Powwow Tradition among Southeastern Tribes: Louisiana”. To date i have completed 6 oral history interviews for this project with members of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe in Marksville Louisiana, The Choctaw-Apache tribe of Ebarb, Louisiana, Louisiana Indian Heritage Association, and Twin Eagles inter-tribal association. The purpose of this project is to record how these organizations started powwowing and why.
Interpretation is vital in heritage resources because it is the vehicle that transports the story of the artifacts and sites.
This previous summer I worked at Oakland National Park. I have volunteered at this park before, once working with exhibit design and another time as a docent on the Fall Tour of Homes 2009. While working as a docent at the tenant house, I realized the importance of interpretation. That following summer I was employed as a park ranger at Oakland Plantation, and during this summer employment I developed a children tour entitled “Who am I?” The purpose of this tour was to show the children the similarities and differences between the two major agricultural work systems in the South, Slavery and Sharecropping. For the end of the tour I developed a Venn Diagram that the children built together based on the information they received on the tour. As a Park Ranger I also developed a Main House Tour that highlighted the the resilience and resourcefulness of the Phrudomme Family throughout the Plantation era.
I also developed a children’s tour for the Williamson Museum at Northwestern State University for a group of Boy and Girl Scouts. This tour discussed the different tribes that are displayed in the museum.
I have done 2 major projects that have required documentation as a graduate student at Northwestern State University. The first project was the HABS project, which required me to document the structure and the exterior condition of the building at different times of the day. The structure that I documented is the old McClung Drugstore, located on the corner of Front Street and Church Street in downtown Natchitoches.The current building sits on the old church site where it is said that Saint Denis is buried. This building was the local drugstore for the citizens of Natchitoches, carrying items that ranged from holiday cards and wrapping paper to farm utilities. Today the building is being used as a clothing boutique and is still a regular location for the people of Natchitoches.
The other project was a cemetery clean up project. For this project I had to select a stone in American Cemetery and document it condition before, during and after cleaning.The pictures were taken of the stone from the North, South, East, and West sides of the stone. These pictures were used to document the effectiveness of the cleaning solution. The purpose of this project was to help preserve the stones in the cemetery by using an eco-friendly chemical called D-12.
The truest way to inform people of new ideas is by speaking to them, and public speaking is something I have been involved in since I was seven years old.
In regards to public history, I have done a number of public speaking events regarding Native American Powwow dance styles and culture. I helped plan and I presented during the Powwow Dance Styles exhibition held at Northwestern State University for Native American Heritage Month 2009. During this exhibition I discussed Fancy Shawl Dance and its origins two an audience of 200 people. I have also spoken to schools about Native American culture and powwow dance styles from kindergarten to high school.
I also participated in a Heritage education program in 2010 that showed elementary students different aspects of the Caddo culture. This even was held at the National Fish Hatchery in Natchitoches Louisiana, which is one of the tribes traditional burial areas. In this program I worked in the dance section, and to prepare for this event I learned some of the traditional Caddo social dances. In addition to schools I also presented pinch pot techniques, definition of pottery symbols, and powwow dance styles to the Juvenile Department of Justice in Shreveport Louisiana.
In the field of public history collections are always being generated and in need of care. I was first introduced to curation while perusing my undergraduate degrees at Louisiana Tech University. While I have been in Graduate School at Northwestern State University I have worked in curation for two years in varying collections. The collection I have had the most experience with is the ones held at Williamson Museum. While at the Williamson Museum I am responsible for organizing and updating the catalog and basic maintenance of the Museum and curatorial lab facilities.
I have also worked with Monica Pels at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, and have participated in curation seminars. Through these experiences i have gained greater knowledge in handling and documenting artifacts.