The Fillmore Boys School in 1877: Racial Integration, Creoles of Color and the End of Reconstruction in New Orleans is a digital history project that analyzes the 1877 register of the Fillmore Boys School, one of the desegregated schools in New Orleans from 1871 to 1877. The project aims to reveal New Orleans citizens’ micro-level experiences of school desegregation, focusing on Creoles of color, a group of francophone Catholics of African descent.
The project deploys the three different digital and historical methodologies below.
1) Spatial Analysis: geographical characteristics of the student residential information from the 1877 Fillmore School register
Main Tool: ArcGIS
2) Social Network Analysis: social connections among Fillmore students and their parents
Main Tool: NodeXL
3) Family Histories: digital interactive narratives of students and their families
Main Tool: ancestry.com
Why “Digital” Matters in This Project?
While the 1877 Fillmore Boys School register does not convey any political discourse or direct voice from the students, the admission list contains extensive individual student data. Digital techniques, in this case, GIS and network analysis, can process and visualize the students information in a way otherwise impossible to depict. These examinations raise new perspectives and questions in understanding the importance of school desegregation among Creoles of color and the complexity of race and ethnicity among the students.
The questions that emerged from the digital experiments include:
- What did motivate Creoles of color to send their children to the Fillmore Boys School? Were there more than geographical reasons? What kinds of social connections might have contributed them to choosing the Fillmore School?
- How do digital techniques help identify Creoles of color whose roles were not recognized well in history, especially when their racial and ethnic characteristics were unclear and changeable? Are their ways to represent ambiguities through a digital history project?
The Fillmore Boys’ School in 1877 project not only visualizes the state of desegregation at the end of Reconstruction by using digital technologies, but also will contribute to the emerging field of digital history by exploring the possibility of representing historical ambiguities of race and ethnicity.