“It has been said that, in any New Orleans bar, the three subjects most likely to be discussed are the status of the seafood in season at the time, politics and sports – all with equal fervor,” notes the introduction to the 1983 reissue of The W.P.A. Guide to New Orleans. In the original guide, Harry L. Hopkins, the head administrator of the W.P.A. noted that the challenges of using and controlling the Mississippi River had “resulted in brilliant feats of commerce, engineering, sanitation and medical research.” Rost. S. Maestri, the Mayor of New Orleans, called the guide “the first major accomplishment of the Federal Writers’ Project of Louisiana” and described it as “more than a conventional guidebook” but rather an attempt to capture the “the history and heritage” of the city. The three perspectives underscore the intersection of environment, culture, and history that have made New Orleans a transnational American treasure.
Here at The Metropole, we harbor no grand ambition to reshape your understanding of the city, but as part of our monthly series have chosen arguably the nation’s most unique urban metropolis as our first focus. Admittedly, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) conference might have drawn our attention to “the Big Easy.” With that in mind, I’ll make a soft plug here for Craig Colten’s piece that The Metropole will publish tomorrow. Colten, the author of several works including Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (listed below) will be speaking at the UHA’s OAH luncheon on Saturday, April 8. The subject of Colten’s talk is one he’s explored widely in books like Unnatural Metropolis: Exporting Risk: New Orleans, Commerce, and Flood Water Diversion.
To the chagrin of the aforementioned denizens of New Orleans drinking establishments, we’ve not covered sports or culinary history, but have included plenty of politics (minus the Kingfish Huey Long), culture, geography, and of course, sex.
Regarding matters of the flesh for which the city has drawn equal parts renown, condemnation, and approbation, it would seem that from its birth writers depicted New Orleans “as a dark, primitive, an abandoned place, governed by immoral pleasures than by rationality or law,” as Shannon Dawdy noted in her 2008 work, Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans. Then again, according to Herbert Asbury Americans brought the city’s famed licentiousness to its peak: “it was under the rule of the United States that New Orleans embarked upon its golden age of glamour and spectacular wickedness.” As Dawdy, Jennifer Spear, Emily Epstein Landau and others have demonstrated, sex in New Orleans meant more than sinful pleasure; rather it was intertwined in politics, economics, and culture. Such examples tells us that complexity beats at the heart of the Big Easy.
Every month, we will bring you a curated bibliography or historiography in the hopes of piquing further exploration into the world’s cities and helping those who might be embarking on research in the area a means to get their proverbial feet wet. With that in mind, a very good starting point is the Journal of American History’s December 2007 special issue, “Through the Eyes of Katrina”. The issue features over 20 essays by prominent scholars in the field, many of which appear in the bibliography below.
Our list is by no means comprehensive and undoubtedly we’ve probably missed more than a few landmark works. Later this month we will post a roundup of New Orleans-related articles from the Journal of Urban History. We hope that readers will add those books and articles that have eluded us in the comments and/or on twitter (@UrbanHistoryA). Also, we’ll be putting out calls for future bibliography lists on social media and welcome your suggestions. For example, Mexico City is the Metropolis of the Month for May, Seattle for June, and Honolulu for July, so please do forward us book/article recommendations at our twitter account or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Brenda Santos, Steve Peraza, Stephen K. Prince, Emily Epstein Landau, and Andy Horowitz for their invaluable help with compiling the list. In addition, the New Orleans Research Collaborative has some outstanding bibliographies (circa 2012) as well. Finally, the Historic New Orleans Collection has several digitized collections available to researchers online.
New Orleans Bibliography
Eric Arnesen, Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863 – 1923, (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994) – Louisiana History review (via jstor)
Thomas Adams and Steve Striffler, ed. Working in the Big Easy: The History and Politics of Labor in New Orleans, (Lafayette, LA: University of Louisiana Press, 2014)
Federal Writers Project, The W.P.A. Guide to New Orleans, (New York: Pantheon, 1983) (Originally published in 1938)
Ned Sublette, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2008) – NYT review
Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Caryn C. Bell, Revolutions, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1800, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997) – The Journal of Interdisciplinary History review (via Jstor)
Richard Campanella, Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans, (Lafayette, LA: University of Louisiana Press, 2008) – Places Journal review
Emily Clark, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2013) – H-Net review
Gilbert C. Din and John E. Harkins, The New Orleans Cabildo: Colonial Louisiana’s First City Government, 1769-1803, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996) – H-Urban review and H-LatAm review
Shannon Lee Dawdy, Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).– Journal of Interdisciplinary History review (via project muse)
James Gill, Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans, (Oxford, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1997) – H-Pol review
Virginia Meacham Gould, “A Chaos of Iniquity and Discord”: Slave and Free Women of Color in the Spanish Ports of New Orleans, Mobile, and Pensacola,” in Catherine Clinton and Michelle Gillespie, eds., The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997): 232-246
Kimberly S. Hanger, Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997) – H-Net review
Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Went Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2000)
James G. Hollandsworth, An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2001) – H-South review
James K. Hogue, Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Street University, 2011) – H-Net review
Thomas N. Ingersoll, “Slave Codes and Judicial Practice in New Orleans, 1718-1807”, Law and History Review 13, no. 1 (1995): 23-62.
Thomas N. Ingersoll, “Free Blacks in a Slave Society: New Orleans, 1718-1812”, William and Mary Quarterly, 48, 2 (1991): 173-200.
Thomas N. Ingersoll, Mammon and Manon in Early New Orleans: The First Slave Society in the Deep South, 1718-1819, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999) – H-Net review
Rashauna Johnson, Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans During the Age of Revolutions, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2016) – Johnson on Slavery’s Metropolis and the Blues at AAIHS
Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001) – H-Net review
Grace King, Creole Families of New Orleans, Baton Rouge: Claitor’s Publishing, 1971.
Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and the New Birth of Freedom, (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2010) – H-Net review
Vernon Palmer, “The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir,” Louisiana Law Review 56 (1995): 363-407.
Daniel Rasmussen, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) – NYT review and WAPO review
Mike Ross, “Justice Miller’s Civil War: The Slaughter-House Cases, Health Codes, and Civil Rights in New Orleans, 1863-1873”, Journal of Southern History, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Nov., 1998): 649-676
Wilson, Charley, Rebecca & Rosa, slaves from New Orleans / Chas. Paxson, photographer, New York
Michael Ross, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law and Justice in the Reconstruction Era, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) – NYT review
Judith K.Schafer, Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846-1862, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003) – H-Law review
Judith K. Schafer, Slavery, Civil Law, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1997) – Journal of Louisiana History review (via Jstor)
Jennifer Spear, “They Need Wives”: Metissage and the Regulation of Sexuality in French Louisiana, 1699-1730, in Martha Hodes, ed., Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, (New York: New York University Press, 1999): 35-59
Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, Exiles at Home: The Struggle to become American in Creole New Orleans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009) – AHR review
Christina Vella, Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of Baroness de Pontalba, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1997) – NYT review
Minter Wood, “Life in New Orleans in the Spanish Period.” Louisiana Historical Quarterly XXII (1939): 642-709.
Craig E. Colten, Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature, (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2005) – Journal of Social History review
Ari Kelman, A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) – AHR review
Herbert Asbury, The French Quarter: An Informal History of New Orleans Underworld, (New York: Basic Books, 2003) – originally published in 1936
Bruce Baker and Barbara Hahn, The Cotton Kings: Capitalism and Corruption in Turn of the Century New Orleans, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2015) – AHR review
John Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997) – NYT review
Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2013) – AHR Review
Kent Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Great Society, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007) – AHR review
Kevin Fox Gotham, Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy, (NY: New York University Press, 2007) – ResearchGate review
William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976) –Videri review
Gary Krist, Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz and Modern and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, (New York: Broadway Books, 2014) – NYT and WAPO review
Alecia P. Long, The Great Southern Babylon: Race, Sex and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865 – 1920, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2005) – H-Net review
Keith Medley, We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson, The Fight Against Legal Segregation, (Gretna, LA: Publican Publishing, 2012)
Reid Mitchell, All on a Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of the New Orleans Carnival, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999)
Kim Lacy Rogers. Righteous Lives: Narratives of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement, (New York: New York University Press, 1994) – Oral History Review review
Anthony Stanonis, Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918 – 1945, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011) – H-net Travel review
J. Mark Souther, New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City,(Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2006) – AHR review
Lynne L. Thomas, Disaster and Desire in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) – BAAS review
Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, (Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006)
Edited Volume – General
Popular Culture (a very limited list)
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)
“The Big Easy” (1987)
“When the Levees Broke” – Spike Lee documentary (2006)
“Trouble the Water” – documentary (2008)
“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009)
Treme – HBO series (four seasons; 2010-2013)