Amistad boasts a strong internship and mentoring program that helps local high school and college students meet educational and community service requirements as part of their studies. Grant funding also allows the Center to occasionally hire student assistants to help with high-priority, short-term projects. Such opportunities assist the Center staff in organizing and cataloging its collections, increasing access through digitization, designing exhibitions and other tasks. They also provide valuable experience in archival and library research and methods and the preservation of cultural heritage to students who may be considering a future in the library/archival fields or other career paths.
Amistad is fortunate to once again have hosted a wonderful cohort of students this Spring semester. Profiles of our interns/assistants and the projects they are working on are featured below.
Lerin Williams is a second-year master’s student in Ethnomusicology at Tulane University. Her research interests lie in African Diaspora studies, identity, oral history, tourism, music of the African Diaspora, transnational knowledge production, linguistics and liberation movements. Williams has a background in music education and jazz studies. Her study of music performance and fieldwork has led her to Brazil, as well as the Caribbean.
“As a graduate assistant at the Amistad Research Center, I am creating descriptions of field recordings by Lorenzo Dow Turner. Turner was an African-American linguist and ethnographer, native to North Carolina. He dedicated his life’s scholarship to understanding the interconnectivity between the ethnic groups of West Africa and its diaspora, ranging from the Caribbean and Brazil to the Gullah Geechee communities in the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia sea islands. Turner was a pioneering linguist whose ethnographic research and system of illuminating commonalities between cultures and languages revolutionized the field in 1949. Turner’s work dispelled myths of Black inferiority and substantiated the irrefutable links between a myriad of African cultures (including Yoruba, Igbo, Wolof, among many others) and their descendants in the Americas.”
Simenesh Semine is a sophomore at Tulane University double majoring in Political Science and African Studies with a minor in Public Health. She is currently completing a fellowship through the university’s Center for Public Service.
“At Amistad, I have been compiling descriptions and information about the New Orleans-based TV show, “Just for the Record.” “Just for the Record” began in 1987 and was the city’s first gay and lesbian advocacy show that interviewed local activists, business owners and members of the LGBT community. Producer and interviewer Loretta Mims also went to businesses in the area that supported LGBT rights and told viewers about ways to support different organizations such as the NO/AIDS Task Force. The show also covered larger events such as New Orleans’ GayFest (later Gay Pride) and The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993. This project has been really interesting because I get to learn about what gay advocacy looked like in late-1980s/early-1990s New Orleans, while also learning about the city. I hope that because of Amistad’s work, more people will have access to “Just for the Record” and be able to get a view into the city’s gay culture and pride.”
Three students – Kristen Osborne, Ellen Williams and Noah Weiser – came to us through the service-learning requirement of a Modern African American history course taught by Dr. Rosanne Adderley of Tulane University’s History Department. All three worked to further inventory three important collections at Amistad: The Comics and Graphic Novels Collection, The Zine Collection, and The Janette Faulkner Ethnic Notions Sheet Music Collection. Each reflects on their experiences below.
The Ethnic Notions collection was a sobering look back at American history. The collection focused on racist depictions of African Americans in sheet music, both in the visual components of the artwork on the sheet music and in the content and lyrics of the songs themselves. A majority of these songs were from the minstrel era of music and focused on many of the stereotypes from that time. The sheet music was from the 1890s to around the 1930s, and the majority of it was published in the North or the West.
The second collection I worked on cataloging was the Zines Collection, which includes small-circulation, self-published booklets and magazines. After weeks of looking at racist depictions of African Americans in the Janette Faulkner collection, the chance to see self-published works by marginalized groups about whatever the publishers saw fit to make a zine about was a breath of fresh air. This was certainly my favorite collection of the semester, and I would often get distracted flipping through the zines while I was cataloging. The collection includes everything from small poetry collections [and] art zines with stunning collages to political activism and information relating to the Black Lives Matter movement [but also] a punk zine made specifically for black women punk fans. Overall, getting the chance to look through people’s manifestations of their creativity and activism was incredibly fun, and I think it’s very cool the Amistad Research Center deemed these important enough to be in the collection.
As a history major, I was excited to be partnered with the Amistad Research Center for my service learning. When I was assigned the comic books and graphic novels at the Amistad Center, I was so excited to begin. I grew up reading comic books with my dad and brothers and could not wait to begin cataloging and learning more about superheroes. What I did not expect to find in these comic books, some of them dating back to the 1940s, is how much of American history is written in the pages of them and how many of them represent the history of people of color in the United States. Whether intentional or not, the comic books are a great lens into America’s past and present.
I think this service learning was a great complement to Modern African American History because in addition to learning about the political history in class, I was given insight into different lenses of cultural and social history and experiences through the comic books. If there were more comic books to be cataloged, I would have stayed on until the end of the semester to finish the inventory because of how much this experience meant to me.
The work I did this semester augmented my academic curriculum immensely. I gained firsthand experience in an archive setting, interacting with types of publications I haven’t seen before and an extremely friendly staff who helped me comprehend the work I was doing. The exposure to sheet music in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, along with small personal zines from the 1990s to the 2010s, showed me new subcultures I didn’t know existed. It [also] widened my view of what constitutes history and what can represent a community in a specific period. I have loved my time interning for the Amistad Research Center, and I know that the experience I gained here will be extremely valuable to my further development.
Amistad’s Archives Division also hosted CeCe Adler, a senior Political Science major at Tulane University. CeCe assisted in processing the personal papers of attorney, activist and Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Revius Ortique Jr. CeCe’s project involved assisting with the initial sorting of the papers, as well as preservation work to help stabilize documents that had been affected by rusting metal fasteners such as staples and paper clips.
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