Ok, take a deep breath and full yourself with patience.
I have not experience with Academic theme and I see it a little bit complex for a beginner, but I hope that this does not discouraged you to put your site online.
First at all, the interface that you mentioned is named NetlifyCMS, this is a React.js application that allows you to edit your .md files, according to the configuration that you provided in the admin folder of your project.
It is important to understand that you’re working with a site under the JAMStack way of develop, for that reason, the site will live in a CDN provided in this case by Netlify that also provides the tools for compiling your site, in this case Hugo among others. But the source code as you know is hosted in GitHub, and then, every change that you do in your code via direct edition or via git commit, will trigger a build instance inside the Netlify platform.
NetlifyCMS have to be configured to edit your site code hosted in GitHub via an authentication layer provided by Netlify itself (don’t confuse Netlify with NetlifyCMS), in this way, NetlifyCMS is able to write direct to your GitHub repository. But this is not the only way that you have to edit posts, just is a more human way to do that.
For simplicity let me explain you something:
- In the JAMStack model, the source code of your site is hosted in a source code repository like GitHub, GitBucket and GitLab. You can edit your code mostly locally, commit the changes and push those changes via git commands.
- When your repository is updated with the push command, it will trigger a build instance inside Netlify cloud that will clone your repository. Then, some virtual machine is borrowed to you for a very short period of time and a build script is launched. This script will read the netlify.conf file (that was cloned from your repository along with the rest of the source code) to load the build commands. In some simple cases a netlify.conf file it is not necessary, but it is a good practice to have one.
- That virtual machine will compile the source code and if the build step is successfully, Netlify will deploy the entire site to its CDN (Content Delivery Network), and you will be able to browse your site at the URL that you have configured inside your Netlify site config.
As you can see, NetlifyCMS is not necessary to have a complex website deployed in a CDN. Usually one include it when is delivering some web solution to a customer that does not have the skills to edit text files and commit the changes to a git repository.
Finally, I recommend you to start with a more simple site, without CMS, using git as I explained. This guide of the Hugo docs will be useful (Don’t jump the QuickStart guide). Learn how to build a hugo web site locally with Ananki theme, then try with more complete themes. When you feel comfortable with hugo locally, jump to Netlify, and when you have the necessary understanding of how static web sites come to life in a CDN, try to include the NetlifyCMS, or maybe another CMS like Forestry.
Let us know about your progress.