Land loss, subsidence, storms, loss of sedimentation of the Mississippi River and sea level rise define the nature of Louisiana’s changing landscape. Since 1978, Louisiana has lost 658 mi2 of wetlands. The projected loss by 2050 is an additional 513 mi2 with restoration projects in place (Barras et al. 2003). Early estimates of wetland loss post hurricanes Katrina and Rita was up to 217 mi2 (Barras 2006), while barrier islands continue to shrink with long-term erosion rates (last 100 years) along the Barataria shoreline as high as -51 ft/yr and short-term rates (1988-2000) of -115 ft/yr (UNO, 2000). Even so, this dynamic environment is one of the most productive areas in this country.
That productivity has created a unique way of life for coastal residents whose livelihoods depend on harvesting local natural resources. But as phenomena such as tropical storms, sea level rise and subsidence, as well as human activities from residential and commercial growth and oil and gas exploration alter the landscape, communities in south Louisiana become more vulnerable to flooding and storm damage and face the possibility of extinction. The time is now to capture the cultural and environmental histories of Louisiana’s coastal communities before they are lost.
This education/outreach project is designed to engage high school students to document cultural, environmental and historical knowledge of south Louisiana communities and changes its people have experienced, preserving that knowledge for future generations. It also offers a learning opportunity for the communities, providing a focused lens where they can identify and distinguish the impacts of climatic changes and its symptoms – such as sea level rise. By their nature, oral histories are a project-based as well as a place-based learning opportunity for students. Working with elders provides students with a rich experience of discovering new perspectives about their own cultural future through the eyes of the past. Additionally, through the perspective of a changing environment, students will hear firsthand what the land was like 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago.
This is also a project of creativity. The ultimate product will be short clips of the audio with a visual (film, slideshow, etc.) of the most moving, informative, or inspiring parts of each interview to be displayed for easy access by everyone in each community. Students will be encouraged to reach past the outer limits of their creativity and use other mediums to showcase what they have learned from their interviews. Selected interviews will be posted on our website and all interviews will be archived at LSU’s Oral History Center at Hill Memorial Library.
Four schools will be participating in this one-year project: Holy Cross School in Orleans Parish,
South Cameron High
in Cameron Parish, Thibodaux High School in LaFourche Parish, and West Saint Mary High School in St. Mary Parish.