Colonial Documents

Louisiana is rich in original manuscript material from the 18th century, an inheritance from the colony’s early founding, strategic location, and economic and military activity. New Orleans’s French Superior Council (1714-1769) and Spanish Judicial Records (1769-1803)—which have been in the care of the Louisiana State Museum since its founding in 1906—are  the crowning jewel of this written patrimony. Unfortunately, accessing the manuscripts is a complicated process, and the documents, some nearly 300 years old, are deteriorating. Action is needed to preserve this archive and to make it more accessible to researchers and the general public. To preserve the contents of this one-of-a-kind archive, and to provide free and universal access to the region’s most significant foundational documents, LSM is committed to a three year, $800,000 effort to digitize and publish the archive online in a searchable database.

Purpose and Significance

The French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial records have long been essential to the study of American colonial history for the quantity, quality, depth, and diversity of the documentation they contain. They have provided generations of historians, students, sociologists and genealogists with a rich source of data on New Orleans’s earliest days, the Louisiana territory, the slave trade, Native American relations, the Atlantic World, and Canada and the Caribbean, among other topics. Due to the documents’ age and fragility, however, the only safe way for researchers to access them is through microfilm, much of which is difficult to read or illegible. In addition, the extant microfilm disregards the original order and provenance of the records. Digital imaging of the documents will enable virtual restoration of the original structure of the archive.

Methods

To accomplish the project’s goals—to create digital surrogates of the manuscripts and to publish them online in a searchable database for access by anyone with a web-enabled device—the Museum will hire three Scanner Operators to create the images and three Indexers to harvest the data that will make the document database machine searchable. LSM will purchase one Epson Expression GT-20000 Scanner (2 have been acquired with bridge grant funds), and 3 desktop computers and accompanying OCR software. The Museum has already committed funds to purchase a Gallery System’s eMuseum module, which will become the public’s primary access point for the documents. The eMuseum module will enable instant internet publication of the documents and finding-aid and descriptive data scans from the LSM’s internal TMS collections database to its website. Image files created in the scanning process will be stored on an external server, (already purchased by the Museum), to safeguard the images, facilitate access to the materials, and allow for sharing and transfer of the materials digitally.

Collaboration/Dissemination

The LSM will collaborate with others to promote the use of the digital archive to be created. It has already published 25 records and related finding aids on the LOUISiana Digital Library. One hundred of the documents will also be available at KnowLA, where they will be translated into English and encoded with metadata to make them searchable within the context of KnowLA’s core content.

Get Involved

If you would like to learn more on how you can help this project or any other at the Louisiana State Museum, please visit www.thelmf.org.