When starting this final project I was scared beyond belief. I don’t know how to make a blog post much less an entire website full of documents that obviously mean something to someone or they would not be in an archive. I knew that I wanted to do something that was eye catching than someone’s old papers that sat in a closet for twenty something years before they were given to UL to do something with. I immediately began asking my boss in the Center for Louisiana Studies (just the Center for short) if he had any ideas of a cool topic that I could do that would interest people. Shortly after this conversation I was on the track of Clementine Barnabet (or Bernabet, it depends on the newspaper that you look at) and the ritual ax murders of Louisiana and Texas. I was super excited and nervous to start working on this case.
I began by speaking with James Wilson who also works in the Center because I was going to use all of his research and papers in order to have content for my website. James was excited for someone to help put his research on the web because, according to him, a lot of people contact him looking for the information that he has on the murders and the case. He gave me a stack of scanned documents about two feet high and said good luck.
Once I stopped freaking out because of the amount of scanning and fishing in the microfilm of UL library I was going to have to do over the next few weeks, I got to work sorting out the documents. Most of them were newspaper articles that covered the murders, the case, and the trial of Clementine Barnabet and her so called accomplices. There were also court documents that James told me no longer existed because of a major fire that had happened to the court house which housed these documents originally. I was excited to read through these documents as I was scanning to see the kind of reporting that was happening in the early 1900s. In the few months that I’ve had to do this project I have not even made a dent in the stack of documents presented to me. I chose to show a variety of things from James collection to show that it entails more than just newspaper articles.
Once I figured out that Omeka would probably be the best option for me and the website at hand, I got started with crafting my website and deciding what I wanted it to look like. I chose my themes and googled all of the plugins that were available to see which ones would be the best for me. I learned that the Simple Pages plugin would allow me to make different pages in order to show off the documents in the best way possible. I also chose to use the Exhibits plugin to give the viewer a different way of looking at the documents other than just searching through them. I uploaded a few documents and started to play around with how I wanted everything to look.
Once I got my website to look how I wanted it to the next step was to start uploading my scanned documents. After scanning documents all day at work, the last thing I want to do when I come home is scan some more documents. Thankfully the items that I am working with for this project are more interesting to read than aerial pictures of the swamp are to look at. After I get a few documents scanned to my jump drive I take a break to start uploading them to the site. I’ve learned that it’s not that hard to do just tedious and repetitive. (I’ve taken LOTS of breaks).
Through this project and class I’ve learned that digital history is something that public historians of this time period should focus more on. Digital anything is not going away so we need to learn it now before it’s too late. I’ve also learned that no matter how scary it sounds I can totally make a website filled with documents (which is pretty cool).