Get that dusty, old accordion out of the attic and bring it to the history students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The university’s graduate students are gathering such memorabilia in order to document Acadiana’s rich French heritage in an online archive.
UL-Lafayette history professor Thomas Cauvin and his students are asking residents to bring their pictures, tools, traditional clothing, newspapers, diaries and other historical objects to the Main Library in downtown Lafayette for a History Harvest on April 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The items will be photographed, copied and recorded for the online collection, he said.
Cauvin said they are looking for artifacts that tell the history of not only Cajuns, but Creoles, Native Americans and other French-speaking communities.
“We’re looking for objects that kind of tell the story, especially the (Louisiana French) revival period between the 1950s through 1970s,” said Victoria Throop, a history graduate student at UL-Lafayette. “We’re really interested to hear people talk about their experiences growing up speaking French, or being told not to speak French.”
After the event, individuals can visit louisianafrench.omeka.net to view the collection.
Those who cannot attend the event but have something to contribute are encouraged to upload their own pictures, scans and writings straight onto the website.
“We already have people contacting us for next year because either they couldn’t make it and they have an object they would like to share, or institutions who want to do it again and have the same History Harvest project on their site,” Chauvin said. “We can foresee other History Harvest events throughout the year and next year. So, it’s a long-term project and I think people will be excited about it.”
Cauvin said the History Harvest project grew out of a desire to better connect the general public with students UL-Lafayette’s public history program.
“Every time we talk about public history projects, people want to talk and share their stories. People want to share and to talk about objects and their memories and heritage,” Chauvin said.
The event is not only about preserving heritage, he said, but also about bridging generations of French speakers.
“We have children who are part of French immersion, and so they speak French,” Cauvin said. “But sometimes their parents don’t speak French and their grandparents do. We want to connect people and bridge the gap between the generations.”
Throop said the project allowed her class to experience first-hand what their public history class teaches about community involvement.
“Just seeing the response from people that I’ve spoken to who say things like, ‘Oh yeah, my grandfather is super excited because he has all this stuff he wants to show off,’ is great,” she said.
“I think it will also spark a lot of thoughts in people’s heads like ‘Oh, I didn’t think my accordion has anything to do with French-speaking culture,’ but understanding how their objects relate to this past.”