Special Collections Summer Project Program Series Part I: Nathaniel Dela Peña

LSU Libraries Special Collections is proud to have participated in LSU Discover’s Summer Research Program for the first time this year. Entrusted with Special Collections’ rich repository of resources, two undergraduate participants spent their summers in Hill Memorial Library exploring diverse research and creative projects. Read more about the scholarly endeavors of these groundbreaking students in this two-part series.

LSU’s Rich Legacy: A Digitally-Integrated Campus Walking Tour

Nathaniel Dela Peña (He/Him)

  • Anticipated Graduation: Spring 2024
  • Major: Political Science and History
  • Mentor: Zach Tompkins, University Archivist

The LSU Libraries Special Collections Summer Project Program offered students the opportunity to submit their own project idea or participate in one of three preselected projects including an LSU history walking tour app, documenting enslaved people in Special Collections, or exploring the history of researchers who used their research to benefit social movements of the past.

two men on a staircase

From left to right: Zach Tompkins and Nathaniel Dela Peña

Nathaniel Dela Peña (he/him) chose the walking tour of LSU’s campus as his area of particular interest. His work on the walking tour breathes new life into important narratives that illuminate the university’s past, with a particular emphasis on its interactions with underrepresented communities. The website hosting this digitally-integrated walking tour will be available in the fall and will incorporate important locations, historical events, and themes throughout the nearly 100-year history of the present campus.

According to Nathaniel, something he learned throughout his summer research experience was “to not be surprised about surprises. Keep an open mind about finding things and taking it all in.”

For example, early in his research, Nathaniel was struck by a discovery. Inside an old, 1920s Gumbo yearbook from Special Collections’ University Archives was a black-and-white photo of Filipino students. Raised in Alexandria, Louisiana, and with Filipino ancestry, Nathaniel was astonished to find others like himself so far back in LSU history. This moment prompted him to focus some of his walking tour research on stories of international students attending LSU during the late 19th- early 20th century.

International Connections to the Audubon Sugar Institute

three black and white headshots in a yearbook

Black-and-white photo of international students in an old Gumbo yearbook

In the course of his archival exploration, Nathaniel found that the first international students came to LSU to study at the Audubon Sugar Institute.

“The Sugar School has a rich and fascinating history with international students that has not been properly emphasized. In fact, the Sugar School was one of the first LSU institutions in which international students, especially students of color, were allowed into. Yet, in many ways, the sugar school also played a part in the extremely prejudiced and segregationist past of LSU,” Nathaniel said.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, LSU developed a world-renowned agricultural and sugar sciences program. LSU’s presidents of the time decided to target international students by publishing news advertisements and pamphlets in multiple languages that pitched LSU’s excellence in academics and agriculture. However, while international students attended LSU starting in the late 19th century, those perceived as people of color still were not admitted. For example, in a letter written by the then-director of the sugar school, W.C. Stubbs, Stubbs expressed delight in admitting a Japanese student—whom he did not consider a person of color; however, later in the same letter, he provides a justification for prohibiting a Barbadian “colored” student from entering the school.

A reminder of the former sugar school still exists on LSU’s campus in the form of the sugar kettle and sugar factory next to Tiger Stadium and will appear as a “stop” on the walking tour.

This summer experience gave Nathaniel valuable new insight into the research process.

“At first, I thought Hill was a library for grad students and PhD candidates, but any student can come in here and look at these primary sources,” Dela Peña said. “Dealing with primary sources is a surreal experience. It’s not like history in the classroom that primarily focuses on secondary sources. This makes history living. That was my favorite part of this experience.”

Below is a preview of three of the selected stops on the virtual walking tour.

 

Selected Highlights from the Walking Tour

 

  • Beyond the Bleachers: Tiger Stadium Dormitories

The tour will journey beneath the hallowed bleachers of Tiger Stadium, which was once home to thousands of students who lived in dormitories underneath the bleachers. Among them, A.P. Tureaud Jr. stands out for breaking barriers as the first African-American undergraduate accepted by LSU in 1953. This landmark moment in LSU’s history, albeit short-lived, is an important marker of LSU’s evolving relationship with diversity. In 2011, LSU bestowed him with an honorary degree, 58 years after his court-ordered expulsion.

  • Honoring Unseen Lives: LSU Health Center Burial Site

A poignant chapter in the university’s narrative was uncovered by geography professor Andrew Sluyter and student intern Sarah Seibold in 2021. They discovered a Reveille article from 1938 in LSU Libraries Special Collections that documented when university workers digging at the site of the current Student Health Center found human remains. The revelation that this site potentially held the remains of enslaved individuals prompted students in LSU’s School of Social Work to hold an African libation ceremony in 2022, honoring the lives and stories that were buried in silence.

  • Rediscovering the Past: LSU Campus Mounds

Journeying through time, the tour will lead participants to the enigmatic LSU Campus Mounds, ancient structures that stand as silent witnesses to Native American history. These remarkable mounds, rising at 17 feet and spanning 125 feet in diameter, predate even the Great Pyramids of Giza. As visitors explore their significance, they will encounter a fascinating legend preserved in a 1955 Reveille article—a tale that weaves together love, warring tribes, and the creation of these remarkable mounds.

 

Read Special Collections Summer Project Program Series Part II: Madison Saucier

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