Each year, New Orleans historian Charles Chamberlain requires his graduate history students at the University of New Orleans to create an historical exhibit for public viewing.
This year, it brought 10 students inside the history of incarceration in New Orleans. Think local jails, federal prisons, slave pens, immigration quarantine and incarceration resistance, which means famous jail breaks and infamous jail break-ins in which inmates were kidnapped and publicly lynched.
Students broke into five groups of two and created separate panels concisely chronicling the history of their assigned topic. They were to draw on historical images and incorporate informative graphics that would help easily distill the topic for viewers—a professional development process Chamberlain describes as key to entering the world of public history work.
“It’s important to have experience in public exhibition,” Chamberlain said. “Students really benefit from that process.”
Students’ work was on display at the Old U.S. Mint Dec. 11 and 12 in conjunction with a symposium being held that weekend on the history of Storyville. Chamberlain said the Mint’s history as a one-time federal prison made it a meaningful home for the work.
Chamberlain, who last year required the same class to explore topics related to the history of slavery in New Orleans, said the incarceration project was developed in conjunction with Ben Weber, a visiting scholar at the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at UNO.
Weber coordinates an ongoing collaboration between UNO and the national history project known as “Global Dialogues on Incarceration,” developed by the New School’s Humanities Action Labs in New York. UNO is among 20 partner schools teaching courses dedicated to teaching incarceration history and staging events with community partners such as the Mint and the Louisiana State Museum.
Chamberlain said that while all the panels his class members created were informative, he learned a great deal from the group that explored the history of immigration quarantine in Algiers, where immigrants were held and forced to undergo a fumigation process from the late 1800s to the 1950s.
This semester, students in Chamberlain’s class “Public History Methods” will similarly be required to create content for a public history project, but in a digital form: An app for New Orleans Historical, http://www.neworleanshistorical.org/, a collaborative project between UNO and Tulane University