Not Your Usual Spring Break in New Orleans by Sarah Parris

Sarah ParrisDuring UNCG's spring break, twelve graduate students from both the History and Interior Architecture Departments traveled to New Orleans. Our class set out to digitally document several historic structures damaged as a result of both Hurricane Katrina and general neglect. Under the direction of Jo Leimenstoll, Jerry Leimenstoll, and Patrick Lucas, we went out into the field, took digital photographs of the building or space being documented, and then used photogrammetry software to rectify the photo, ultimately producing a scaled image.

Our class worked on several different types of buildings during our ten-day adventure. We documented a community center, a neighborhood market, a halfway house which once was a turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor, and a church. The days were long and certainly demanding, but we still made time for fun. We were able to experience a good bit of New Orleans, and especially enjoyed the food. Most of us had beignets from Café du Monde at least once, and as a group we were especially fond of Voodoo Barbeque, a small restaurant close to our hostel in the Garden District.

With this project, we have a rare opportunity to be out there in the field gathering primary source material and creating oral histories. There is nothing more exciting than actually making history with our own hands. Instead of sitting in a classroom reading and theorizing about what other museum professionals have done, we are out in the field meeting community members and doing first-hand research. We are learning by experience about all of the challenges and rewards of building an exhibit from scratch. Most importantly, there is a sense of accomplishment looking at where we are now, and a sense of pride in having come this far in such a short period of time. What started as a photograph has now turned into a full fledged exhibit. We have built something from the ground up and have learned lessons that we could not have learned by just sitting in a classroom.

Our journey took us to the historic French Quarter and we were able to see and experience Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, and the Saint Louis Cathedral. And of course we saw the mighty Mississippi River! But, we didn't just limit ourselves to the areas that survived Hurricane Katrina. With a wonderful tour guide and host from the University of Kentucky, we journeyed to the Ninth Ward and other areas of the city that had been completely destroyed after the hurricane. The amount of devastation was horrendous. It seemed as if time stopped with Katrina's arrival. While documenting the church we stepped into the adjoining elementary school and saw lunch menus still posted from August 2005.

We certainly left New Orleans with a new understanding of the city and each of us was touched by the many stories and sites that we encountered during our stay. This was a spring break unlike any other and I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to participate in this experience.