Reflection #1–Historic New Orleans Collection

Exterior View of the Historic New Orleans Collection - http://blog.carnivalneworleans.com/wp-content/uploads/HNOCRoyal1July2009.jpg

Our first student intern reflection is finally here! The reflection is featured below, and comes from senior Julie Bursch, a history major currently interning at the Historic New Orleans Collection downtown. Enjoy!

This semester I will be interning at the Historic New Orleans Collection, located downtown on Chartres Street near Jackson Square. In light of my history major, I hope that working at a museum and experiencing the research that happens behind the scenes will give me better insight into this field of study. In turn, I hope to help provide the HNOC with the labor it needs in order to produce an informative database of historical information for the New Orleans community.

My role at the HNOC operates behind the scenes, but is nonetheless very important to the performance of the museum. I will be assisting with data entry of a research tool called the Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carre Digital Survey. This online service aims to digitize important historical records relating to property ownership of buildings in the French Quarter. The Vieux Carre Survey will “allow users to access property data, photographs, plans, chain of title records, and citations.” The survey began in the 1960s in an attempt to preserve local history in terms of neighborhood inhabitants, architecture, legal and sociological data from the colonial period up until the present. The survey provides information from every block on the French quarter, and covers extensive information such as maps, site plans, drawings, newspaper clippings, photographs, and more.

My job specifically is to take all of this data from paper form and enter it into a Microsoft program called Access. This program is frustrating to use and challenges my patience, but it is teaching me valuable lessons of appreciation for those who spend their careers researching primary documents. I spend my time at the Collection scrutinizing dozens of property records and separating the important information from the non-important or redundant bits. This means evaluating exchanges of property titles, finding out whether it was a normal sale, lease, divorce settlement, donation, bankruptcy, etc. I enter each person involved in the property ownership into a large database that will ultimately help people with any future research. I then attach pictures to the records, so that someone can look up pictures of the same building or lot and witness its physical transformation starting in the colonial period up until the present.

The HNOC as an organization functions as a museum, research center, and publisher “dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region.” It was founded in 1966 in order to preserve the collection of Leila and Kemper Williams, including 35,000 library items, more than 2 miles of documents and manuscripts, and over 350,000 photographs, prints, drawings, or other artifacts. Currently, there is an exhibition in place to celebrate the bicentennial of Louisiana’s statehood. There are many artifacts and historical write-ups to commemorate the area’s history, including a copy of the Times-Picayune the day after the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl (Who Dat!).

Though by the end of the semester, it will feel like I will have spent much of my time helping to digitize this research, it pales in comparison to the work that my supervisor has committed to it. Howard Margot was hired in 2007, and has spent the last 5 years working towards the completion of the Vieux Carré Survey. Many Tulane students have come before me during their own public service requirements with the same tasks and goals of finalizing this database. In that sense, I feel like a part of a collective movement that spans a far greater importance than my weekly 4 hour shifts. In order to not get pulled down by the monotonous details, it helps for me to think of this project in its entirety.

I have had many jobs before that demand professionalism, but this internship is giving me even further insight into the professional world. Khakis are considered to be too casual for the dress code, and girls can only wear pants if they are a part of a pantsuit. Dressing professionally, being on time despite Friday afternoon traffic, and working in the French Quarter amongst a world of various professionals has definitely given me a different perspective of this city. I look forward to the experiences I will be having this semester, as well as overcoming the challenges that this internship throws my way. Though it is sometimes difficult for me to see how a museum is serving others, I am excited to understand the indirect and quieter approach to serving a community—an approach that gives the power of knowledge and understanding.

Interested in learning more about the HNOC? Check out their website at http://www.hnoc.org/ , and also feel free to check out the Vieux Carre Survey at http://www.hnoc.org/vcs/ !

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