Annual Louisiana Studies Conference to be held Friday and Saturday

Northwestern State University will host the 11th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 20-21 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex. The conference opens at 2 p.m. on September 20, and presentations start at 3:15 p.m. Presentation sessions will begin on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. Scholars from throughout Louisiana as well as six other states and India will make presentations on aspects of Louisiana archaeology, material culture, folklore, art, history and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference theme is “Becoming Louisiana.” Throughout the two days over fifty scholars, cultural authorities, and creative writers will make presentations. Some of the many topics to be discussed include Louisiana literature, service learning, architecture, legends, vampires, labor history, history, politics, ethnic diversity and identity, the Louisiana Redbones, travel writing, autobiography, grave sheds, outlaws, tenant cabins, linguistics, Civil War history, material culture, Poverty Point, archaeology, Louisiana folkways, race relations, climate change and the environment, and medical history. Creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets Catharine Savage Brosman, John P. Doucet, and David Middleton.

“Attendees at this year’s conference will get an increased sense of the cultural, political, and environmental forces that have shaped Louisiana’s history and people,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of NSU’s Louisiana Folklife Center and co-chair of the conference. “The presentations will shed light on many of the forces and people that have impacted the evolution of Louisiana’s rich and diverse culture, offering us more complex views of who we are as a people. The conference is free and open to the public, and we want to invite anyone who is interested in the state of Louisiana’s vibrant cultures, peoples, and history to join us and to take part in these conversations.”

The Friday evening keynote, “Glocalization and Cajun Culture on the Market: Questioning the Isolation Myth of French and Creole Louisiana,” will be given at 6 p.m. in CAPA 206 by Dr. Nathan Rabalais, assistant professor of French and Francophone Studies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Writes Rabalais, “The rapid decline of the French language in Louisiana and the loss of many traditional customs are often lamented by scholars and activists as a direct result of modernization and technology which purportedly accelerated the influence of mainstream American culture. By the same token, the hitherto steadfastness of south Louisiana’s francité is seen by many as a positive side effect of acute isolation from the rest of American society. The pervasiveness of this narrative of “isolation” is surprising given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Many of the hallmarks of “Cajun culture” come from elsewhere and relatively recently (e.g. the accordion by way of German Jewish merchants and mail order commerce, the majority of Catholic clergymen from France or Canada until 1960, Hitachi rice cookers and Magnalite pots, etc.).”

“In this presentation, I will explore the appeal of the isolation myth and the subsequent boom of Cajun culture commercialism beginning in the 1980s through the lenses of Roland Robertson’s notion of glocalization and Jeffrey Alexander’s concept of collective identity. While Cajuns have long since appropriated foreign products into their own culture, Cajun goods are propelled abroad to such an extent that this have given rise to the “Certified Cajun” label to help locals avoid imposters. I further argue that the isolation myth was likely an explanation for linguistic difference interpreted by an Anglo-centric U.S. perspective, whereas francophone Louisianians gained an easy to understand reason for the sudden loss of their language that points to an inevitable modernization, rather than placing responsibility for culture loss on the community itself.”

The Saturday morning keynote, “Traditionally Associated People of Cane River: Using Ethnographic Methods to Document, Study, and Interpret Descendant Communities,” will be given by Dustin Fuqua, Chief of Resource Management at Cane River Creole National Historical Park, at 10:30 a.m. in CAPA 206. Fuqua’s presentation will consist of a lecture on extensive research of Clementine Hunter’s life and work. Observes Fuqua about the presentation, “Perhaps one of the most special aspects of Cane River Creole National Historical Park (CARI) is its relationship with the descendant communities of Oakland Plantation and Magnolia Plantation. The term Traditionally Associated People (TAP) defines a living group of people whose traditions are closely tied to the resources in national park units. This concept was meant to ensure that these groups are taken into consideration when park managers formulate policy, develop plans and make decisions. The term refers exclusively to groups which: form a community; are tied to park resources through cultural identity and heritage; pass traditions and identity from generation to generation; and were associated with significant resources for two generations before the creation of a park.”

“Though substantial ethnographic data was produced in the mid-1990s, time-sensitive opportunities to learn from aging Cane River TAPs still exist and must be acted upon quickly. A testament to their perseverance, descendants of both plantations continue to reside near both park units and often access its resources. Descendants of enslaved Africans, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, day laborers, overseers, planters, Tribes, Creoles of Cane River and traditional cultural practitioners remain and should be consulted. As such, the park proactively developed an ethnographic project to learn from TAPs about historic practices and traditional knowledge in order to better manage park cultural resources. In doing so the project team interviewed over 40 informants, digitized previously unreleased interviews, created final reports and produced five Section 508-compliant documentary films. This presentation will highlight ethnographic interviews with informants and discuss project development and dissemination. A viewing of two 10-minute documentary videos will be provided for attendees, with a concluding opportunity for a question and answer session with park TAPs.”

Fuqua’s address will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the 11th Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest. This year’s contest theme echoes the conference theme, with entrants being invited to address one or both of the following questions: “How has growing up in Louisiana shaped you into the person that you are today? What makes you Louisianan?” Several of the winning essays will be presented at the conference and all of them will be published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal, the Louisiana Folklife Center’s scholarly journal. This year’s Contest winners are Hana Le of Ruston High School for her first-place essay “That Gray Area: A Self Reflection on Culture and External Factors,” Emily Savell of Grant High School in Dry Prong for her second place essay “Bayou des Glaises” and Timmie Harris of C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport for his third place essay “The Dirty South.” Two students received Honorable Mention: Sydney Hedrick of Grant High School for her essay “A Boot-Shaped Mark” and Summer Netterville of C.E. Byrd High School for her essay “What Makes My State So Great.”

“This year’s entries were an immense pleasure to read,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, co-chair of the Contest. “The essays eloquently describe how Louisiana’s cultures, environment, and people are shaping these students’ lives in positive ways, but also how these young people are themselves shaping Louisiana for the better. These students’ voices attest that the future of Louisiana is in good hands with our young people, who are proud Louisianans.”

For more information call the Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332.

The Conference is co-sponsored by the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Cultural Studies, The Friends of the Hanchey Gallery, the Louisiana Folklife Center, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the NSU Center for Inclusion and Diversity, the NSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NSU Department of Fine + Graphic Arts, the NSU Office of Recruiting, the NSU Writing Project and the NSU Office of the President.