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UL Lafayette students ‘harvest’ pieces of Louisiana’s French history at public library event

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A group of graduate students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s public history program harvested a different kind of crop Saturday at the Lafayette Public Library.

The harvest was of historical objects related to Louisiana’s French past that the students collected and scanned as part of an event billed as History Harvest day.

History professor Thomas Cauvin said objects — be they musical, mechanical or otherwise — can tell a story. The goal of the harvest was to get people to bring in objects and share their histories with the students, who recorded the oral histories and photographed and scanned the documents and various items that were brought in.

The group collected Cajun, Creole and even Native American French-speaking historical objects of significant interest in telling the story of Louisiana’s French past.

Russell Hebert brought in and old-time laundry wringer passed down through his family from his grandmother that he estimated to be about 100 years old.

A laundry wringer may not seem to be the most significant of objects, but it tells a story of how Cajuns lived long ago.

Hebert described for students how clothes would be washed with lye soap made from rendered hog lard. The water was boiled in a huge black iron pot over a wood-burning fire and then slowly poured into the bathtub, where the clothes were scrubbed on a homemade scrubber that he also brought to the harvest.

When the clothes were finished being scrubbed, they went through the wringer and were then hung out to dry.

“It was not an easy life,” Hebert said.

Other people brought in old photographs or documents, many dating back over 100 years, and told students the stories behind them.

All the scans, photographs and oral histories will be uploaded to the group’s digital collection at

Cauvin said it is important to preserve the French heritage in Louisiana. For a long time, it was not acceptable to speak French and much of it died, he said, but this program is about getting people to be proud of their heritage and to tell their stories.

“People love doing this. People want to share their stories,” he said.

Public history student Kelsey Jagneaux agreed. She said it was a great turnout and the group was able to collect plenty of interesting objects and stories.

Jagneaux said a couple of the most interesting object she saw was a scarf depicting all of the Cajun dance halls in the area and some Native American arrowheads.

“The community is responding well,” she said, adding that it was fulfilling to see their work come to fruition with the event.

In addition to collecting the histories, the French chorus group Franco-Fun, led by local French music teacher Jimmy Louis-Marie, performed for the attendees.

Louis-Marie said most of the members in the chorus are French teachers in the area and they seek to improve the French language in Acadiana through music.

A “Table Français” was set up on one side of the room where, during the event, French-speaking attendees could share their stories in the French language.

Story by The Advocate.