Some classes require students to write term papers, others require lengthy final exams, but for one history class, their final turned into something completely different.
On May 1, 2019 Vermilionville hosted an exhibit named “Resistance Through Persistence: Enslaved Women and Culture in Louisiana.” The exhibit was curated and produced entirely by a history class entitled “Public History of Slavery.”
The class, taught by professor Ian Beamish, Ph.D., chose the “Resistance Through Persistence” topic completely on their own this semester and Beamish said they were very excited to see the end product.
“I really love history courses like these because students get to do hands-on stuff,” Beamish said. “They get to see an end product that can be shown and shared with people beyond the classroom at the end of the semester.”
Student curators lead tours through the visual cues of the exhibit, as well as explained the audio cues as well. Students chose to use audio from those people who had been enslaved rather than use voices of enslavers. Beamish said this was one of the highlights for him.
“They had the audio where they took from two of these WPA narratives, which are from the 30s and 40s,” Beamish said. “It’s one of the few sources in the world where slavery is put into words by the people who experienced it. They went through a collection of those and found some they were very interested in and then worked with someone they met at a conference to perform those narratives.”
Inside the exhibit students detailed out the slave purchases from plantations like Il Copal, which they titled as “Lafayette, Louisiana’s Ancestral Plantation.” Maps were shown of both the South Louisiana region and origins of enslaved persons as well.
African American women’s hair was another aspect of this exhibit. The class used the exhibit to show how even the style of hair is important to a culture.
“The kinks and coils of black hair can be elaborately styled or relaxed,” the exhibit said. “But the opportunity to choose is an important aspect of a culture that has lasted for 300 years pushing back against European standards of beauty.”
Other exhibits included a detailed look into herbal remedies, one of which being how a potice of sweetgum leaves pressed to the head may cure a headache. It also spoke of how slaves controlled their fertility by chewing on the root of a cotton plant as a sort of birth control, reclaiming say over their bodies.
“Though enslaved men and women were ignorantly hypersexualized by their enslavers, couples would attempt to recreate, when possible, traditional West African marriages which emphasized monogamy and faithfulness within the partnership,” the exhibit said. “Purposefully altering reproductive methods directly affected the labor market and workforce available to enslavers and allowed enslaved women a way to reclaim their bodies.”
With this success behind, Beamish says he’s looking to the future and hopes to keep exhibits like this coming.
The exhibit will be open for another month and can be seen in the Coussan house at Vermillionville, after which it will move to the Guilbeau Center for Public History where it will be displayed occasionally.
Students involved in the exhibit include: Stephenie Fontenot, Christine Savoie, Abigail Lowery, Bailey Lemoine, Cody Abshire, Glenae Nora, Tranquella Robertson, Grace Evanco, Julia Fontenot, Paige Boutte, Annabell Smith, Sarah Higgins and Tori Kleinpeter.