Dupré Library hosts one of the best-kept secrets on the UL Campus: a rapidly growing UL press and internationally respected research center.
The Center for Louisiana Studies was founded in September of 1973. UL historians Glenn Conrad and Amos Simpson approached then-USL President-elect Ray Authément, to propose the Center. Authément listened carefully to their proposal, and thought it was a good idea. As University legend has it, Authément reportedly gave the pair $250 and made it clear that they were never to darken his door again.
In reality, Authément has continually supported the Center, and the University has contributed much, much more than that small amount. Over the years, UL has provided most of the Center's overhead & infrastructure costs. The early vision by the historians and Authément has paid off, and the Center has become both a major resource tool for the world, and a University press that has published over 200 books, with expansion on the way.
We recently spoke with James Wilson, the Assistant Director of the Center for Louisiana Studies.
Tell us about the founding of the Center for Louisiana Studies.
There was a two-fold purpose for the establishment of the Center. First, it was designed to be a repository for the primary source documents related to the development of the lower Mississippi Valley. These research documents were spread out around the world in various archives-France, Spain, Cuba, the Caribbean, and England. As a result of the Center's efforts, we have collected the largest collection of microfilm in one location of the documents related to the development of the lower Mississippi Valley. From that, the Center developed quite an international reputation as a research center. Every year USL hosted an internationally renowned scholarly conference on France in the New World. Unfortunately, that only lasted about 5-6 years, but it got our name out there. So in many ways, the Center was known around the world, before we were ever known here in Louisiana and Acadiana.
The second reason for the founding of the Center was to serve as a publication arm of the University. A few years before, the USL History Series had begun publishing books. The Series produced about 12 to 15 titles, from 1968 to the early 1980s, mostly dealing with the colonial history of Louisiana. The first title in the series was a journal on the founding of the Louisiana colony that Glenn translated and annotated.
The success of that led to a desire among the faculty to expand and build on the Series. So the Center took it over, and also began publishing books outside of that Series. Things went well, and 1976-77 proved to be a watershed year. We had two important publications that brought us to a new level of visibility: The Courthouses of Louisiana, an architectural survey; and The Cajuns, which brought together faculty from across the campus who contributed essays related to their areas of expertise, all describing the Cajuns and the Cajun culture. As a result of the success of those books, revenues came in. So we were able to publish more titles, of a better quality, and that's when the publication aspect of the Center took off.
Subsequently, we've published over 200 titles. Right now there are about 100 available, and in the next few months we are going to revive the retired backlist titles from the vault, so to speak, using print-on-demand technology, so they'll be available again.
Then beginning in the 1980s, thanks to emerging computer technology, we were able to start publishing about six titles a year. In the 1990s we reached a new peak in the sales and critical success of our titles, which allowed us to begin publishing full color books by the late 1990s. But then in 2001, we lost historian Dr. Carl Brasseaux to the Center for Culture & Ecotourism; soon after, in 2003, Mr. Conrad died.
Since that time Carl has come back and now runs both centers, and we have really transformed the publications program at CLS. It's like night & day. We've been able to take what we have learned in the previous 30 years, build upon the positives, and really reach new heights: in 2006, for the first time one of our titles was named Book of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. That particular book-- Geographies of New Orleans-- was our largest print run, our most ambitious project, and brought more revenue and attention than any book we've ever published. It's not just the sales, either. We have received at least 5 manuscripts from authors based on the quality of our work with Geographies.
Building on those successes, we now hope to start publishing between 10 to 12 books per year. But we haven't lost our emphasize on research and the archives. If anything, we have expanded our archival holdings to include digital formats, including audio & visual recordings. We have the Cajun & Creole archives that Barry Ancelet helped develop beginning in the 1970s, and because of the digitization of those, we've subsequently been able to launch a CD series, the first of which was Varise Connor, typically recognized as the world's greatest unrecorded Cajun fiddler... well, at least before we published his CD.
The Center for Culture & Ecotourism is also working with Charles Richard in the Film Studies program. We support his office with our facilities, including background materials, human resources, scholars and specialists, etc., that he needs to add authenticity to his films.
What titles of interest are coming out in the near future?
Right now we're working with Marsha Gaudet, Reggie Young, and Wiley Cash on a coffee table book focusing on Ernest Gaines' Louisiana, and the inspiration for his writing. That book is in conjunction with the Ernest Gaines Research and Writing Center that is being established in the library, and the book should be available before the Fall.
We're also working on a project with two professors on Old South Baton Rouge, the area from LSU to the Downtown which takes in the McKinley High area. LSU System President William Jenkins is writing the forward for that book.
Another project is an important wetlands study that Don Davis, also from LSU, is writing and compiling. It will be the definitive wetlands study, from the humanities point of view.
We're going to re-publish the complete run of the Bec Doux comics. That was a very popular comic series from the late '60s to the early '80s that was published by various local media. The comics were widely popular across Acadiana, and Fabrice LeRoy in the Modern Foreign Languages Department is editing them for us.
We're trying to continue the Louisiana Writers series, and we're looking for the next title in the series. The first book was Darryl Bourque's Blue Boat; and of course, Darryl has been named Poet Laureate of Louisiana, so that has really helped get us off the ground. So anyone out there with something significant to contribute in fiction and creative writing can contact us.
Recently we published Barry Ancelet's & Phillip Gould's history of the Festivals Acadiens, One Generation at a Time. This details the story of the Cajun music festival now held in Girard Park, from its inception in 1974 to the present. The photos are just beautiful.
Also by the fall, we will have released Manuel's Dilemma, the follow-up to Rich Campanella's Geographies of New Orleans. It will provide a more narrative approach to Campanella's work, recounting the trials and tribulations of New Orleans' battle with nature, over the history of the city. This will be one of the most relative, and time-sensitive books we've ever published.
Finally, we want to continue the Louisiana Folk Masters Series, our music CD recordings. We issued a title last fall, the second in the music series noted above, Women's Home Music, a $25 double CD set. We are hoping to release a title a year. We are looking at a "greatest live hits" from Festivals Acadiens as the next issue in that series.