At the intersection of Canal Street and City Park Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cemeteries offer an important history of New Orleans’ culture often left out of the city’s greater narrative. This semester, Laura Kelley, an adjunct professor in the Department of History, and her service-learning students set out to enrich the history of Irish New Orleans through in-depth investigations of the St. Patrick’s Cemeteries No. 1 and 2 using new, interactive technology.
Amid the uncertainties in teaching and learning this year due to Covid-19, Kelley began exploring alternative ways to engage students in her courses, which led her to the ArcGIS mapping software StoryMaps. While GIS programming can be complicated and require a great deal of training, StoryMaps is user-friendly and allows individuals to upload information such as text and photographs to build comprehensive maps.
Kelley’s students began their research projects in her Irish New Orleans course this fall by visiting the St. Patrick’s cemeteries and proposing research topics of personal interest based on findings at the cemeteries, which ranged from architecture to WWII history and epidemics. As Kelley explains, “Cemeteries are popular tourist destinations in New Orleans, but we still tend to think of them as static spaces. These projects show just the opposite—they show us that these sites are engaging spaces, and spaces to really examine the heritage of the city.”
To develop rich historical texts, Kelley’s students used the cemeteries as their primary research source, accompanied by archival research and interviews with experts. Then they uploaded their text and images to StoryMaps. Each student’s research project increases the breadth of knowledge of Irish culture in New Orleans, a vital immigrant group to consider when learning about the diversity and history of the South, Kelley explains. “In learning about Irish immigrants, you can see similar prejudices that come into play when discussing our history and current moment. This research allows for more dynamic conversations to occur about the U.S., about the role that immigrants have played in the shaping of our country, and in New Orleans in particular.”
Laura D. Kelley is an immigrant and ethnic historian at Tulane University and the Program Director of Tulane’s Summer in Dublin Program. Her popular courses on Louisiana culture and history as well as Irish New Orleans are offered regularly and take students out of the classroom to explore these dimensions of New Orleans’ cuisine, music, and architecture. Her book, The Irish in New Orleans, is the winner of the bronze medal in the Regional Non-Fiction category of the Independent Publisher Awards- IPPY- and a finalist for the INDIEFAB award.