A little taste of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has come to the University.
“Jazz Fest 101: A Showcase of Student Oral History Research,” is the newest exhibit at Hill Memorial Library. It features student interviews with the people that make the festival possible.
The project began in 2011, when the University’s Department of Geography and Anthropology and the LSU Libraries’ T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History partnered with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation Archive.
Helen Regis, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University, and Jennifer Cramer, Director of the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, co-taught the course which required students to do extensive oral history research. Anthropology 4909 is a service-learning course and undergraduate seminar.
“It’s a really good hands-on experience, what it’s like to do research where your product is going to be part of a public record,” Regis said. “I think that’s really important — when you get to see how the parts you’re working on fit into a larger whole.”
Regis collaborated with the Nicholls State University Department of Languages and Literature to come up with the student directed assignment.
Each person interviewed comes from a different aspect of the festival, including stage constructors, artists, food and craft vendors, musicians and volunteers. The participants are usually behind the scenes contributors, people who have given their lifeblood to the festival, Cramer said.
Regis said that they wanted the students to focus on people who aren’t usually interviewed, drawing on the social relationships and work that bring the festival to life.
“They wanted to capture the evolution of the festival from the people who were able to tell the stories,” Cramer said. “Students have been extremely instrumental in getting that content out and available.”
The students learned about the roots of Jazz Fest from firsthand accounts, including its origin at Congo Square and its involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
The project is a collection of 37 interviews conducted by students over the past several years. This year is its first time being displayed for public use, coinciding with LSU Discover Day and Jazz Fest.
The exhibition is presented in Hill Memorial Library’s lecture hall, with a digital interactive platform for browsers to listen to each interview and see accompanying photos.
The research took the entire semester for students. They chose their subject, and conducted one to two interviews around two hours each. They not only learned about their interviewee’s role in the festival, but their entire background and how that led them there.
“The whole point was that this class was the center. We’re really trying to work with undergraduates to give them the experience to conduct qualitative research,” Cramer said.
At the end of the project, the students in the class get to attend one day of Jazz Fest, as a part of the University’s relationship with the festival.
“It’s really valuable for the LSU community to see the humanities at work,” Regis said.