Member of the Week: Robert Fairbanks

Photo #2Robert B. Fairbanks, PhD

University of Texas at Arlington

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I am currently researching the growth of the so-called suburban cities of the Southwest. One of the hallmarks of modern metropolitan America after World War II is the growth of huge suburban cities. Currently, Mesa, Arizona, is the 38th largest “city” in America while Arlington, Texas, is the 50th largest “city.” Although neither has the look or feel of a traditional city, both of these share many of the characteristics associated with modern cities including a diverse population, numerous manufacturing plants, large office buildings, massive retail outlets, cultural institutions and serious traffic problems. Some suburban cities may have started out as small rural towns on the fringe of the city, or possibly emerged as bedroom suburbs after World War II, but from my study of North Texas suburbs it became clear that some civic leaders in these communities had larger visions for creating a new type of city in metropolitan America. Although big city spillover explains the growth of suburban cities to some degree, these places became more than “accidental cities” due to civic leadership that embraced planning, boosterism and aggressive annexation that would result in a new type of city. I was drawn to this topic because I have lived and taught at the university here in Arlington for over 35 years and have become curious about why it and places like it in the Southwest developed the way they did. Were they merely accidental, as Robert Beauregard has suggested, or something more? Moreover, since neither Mesa nor Arlington has attracted the kind of scholarly attention they deserve I thought these suburban cities deserved some a closer look and believe that such a study would contribute to a better understanding of larger trends in the history of the metropolitan Southwest.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I currently teach an upper division undergraduate course entitled Cities and Suburbs in U.S. American History. I have been able to integrate my previous research in the history of housing reform, urban renewal and urban politics in the Southwest to the course and to provide more attention to the history of the urban Southwest, the focus of my scholarship, than one would expect at a Midwestern university. I also teach a Colloquium in Transatlantic urban history at the graduate level that draws less from my actual research and more from the background reading in this new field. Although I am not teaching the History of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this semester, I do regularly offer this class as a case study of urban history and rely heavily on my research on Dallas and now Fort Worth for that class which includes lectures, readings and field trips to both Dallas and Fort Worth.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am very pleased that Temple University Press has now published my book, The War On Slums in the Southwest, in paperback because this allows it to be used in courses and to reach a wider audience.   Although I focus on the various efforts to eradicate slums in five Southwestern cities from the 1930s to the 1960s, a topic previously little studied, the book is more than a regional study and I hope my conceptual approach which traces how the war on slums gives way to the war on poverty will have some impact on how we think about federal policy in this area.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I would encourage young scholars in graduate school to develop networks within and without the university. It is so important to share your research with others and not only have them read what you write but for you to read what they have written and learn from them. Attendance at conferences can be pricey but the ability to interact with one’s peers from across the country as well as meet more established scholars is important professionally because many of these people will become life-long friends. Finally, you should select a research topic that really interests you since you will be spending a lot of time focused on it.

What museum or historical site would you recommend to urban historians visiting the city where you live?

Although the Sixth Floor Museum, which retells the story of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, is tasteful and evocative for those who lived through it, my recommendation is go to the nearby Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. Located in the beautifully restored Old Red County Courthouse built in 1892 in the oldest section of Dallas, the museum includes four galleries that present the chronological history of the city using historical artifacts, as well as various touch screen computers, an educational learning center, and four theaters that run well-crafted 15-minute films for each section.

The Power of Urban Improvisation: Lawrence Powell’s The Accidental City

Phillip Pittman, Plan of New Orleans, 1770, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

Famed geographer Carl Suer once wrote: “Culture is the agent, the natural area the medium, the cultural landscape the result.” To put it less eloquently, people shape the landscape through husbandry, conservation, and architecture, and the end results speak volumes.

While New Orleans might not be the perfect encapsulation of such an idea, as evidenced by Lawrence Powell in his 2012 work, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, the city’s collective attitude toward planning, culture, and economics emerged from a combination of human endeavor and environmental reality. The self interest of founder Sieur de Bienville—coupled with French distraction at humanitarian disaster along the Gulf Coast and in France itself— enabled Beinville to direct settlers to the developing, flood prone settlement. Bienville ignored, and actively plotted against, French plans to establish a colonial city at Bayou Manchac or even Biloxi. Land grants and slaves proffered to new arrivals in exchange for their residence quickly built up the local population.

With rising numbers of slaves and colonists, Bienville had established a demographic threshold beyond those of his colonial counterparts. By late November of 1721, and despite insect infestations, disease, floods, political rivalry, and official condemnation from France, New Orleans emerged as the most “densely settled territory along the entire Mississippi.” Over 450 persons resided in today’s French Quarter; nearly another 450 along St. Bayou St. John and in the Chapitoulas District. Counting the West Bank settlements that stretched from modern day Algiers Point to English Turn, over 1,200 people resided in the region. A great number of those counted were slaves, mostly African and some Native American; none willingly residing in the area, but as Powell writes, numbers were numbers “whether black, red or white. And to the extent that demographic facts might carry weight at the end of the day, no one could deny Bienville was holding a strong hand.”[1]

Bienville’s machinations provide an instructive lens from which to view Powell’s book and the history of New Orleans it presents. From the outset, the New Orleans economy seemed to produce more money for itself than its colonial masters; residents did so by hook or by crook, engaging in economic pursuits beyond the purview of officialdom that far more often flowed into the coffers of locals more than into European capitals overseas. This viewpoint makes greater sense when one considers how many masters the city endured: French, Spanish, and of course American. The town always figured out a way to line its own pockets; smuggling, vice, and black markets frequently made up for much of the city’s economy. Second, but no less important the physical environment deeply impacted its culture in at least two ways: the introduction of slavery to build infrastructure and establish an economy and the sense of fatalism due to frequent storms, floods, and fires that seemed to beset the city.

Plan showing the the boundaries of the great conflagration of 21st of March 1788, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

Slavery, as was the case in much of the New World, played a central role in New Orleans’ growth, though much differently than its Anglo neighbors to the northeast. Plantation slavery grew much faster than in the English colonies where it began on a smaller scale and slaves largely came from the West Indies. With the explosion of tobacco and later cotton, the English colonies transformed from “societies with slaves” to “full fledged slave societies where the norms of agro-export plantation agriculture permeated all areas of life: the economy, culture, law, politics.” In contrast, Louisiana experienced what Powell describes as the “big bang of slavery” almost overnight, incorporating large-scale slavery into its economy and culture. Though according to scholars such as Jennifer Spear and Emily Epstein Landau, it took decades before Louisiana “became a settled plantation society.”[2] Slavery imprinted itself onto the New Orleans landscape very early and attempts at state regulation followed. The Code Noir, to paraphrase Powell, did not gradually crystallize from experience but instead arrived as law, fully-grown, drawn largely from Saint Domingue’s 1685 slave code.[3]

Needless to say, it would be slaves that pulled “Louisiana and New Orleans out of the mud.” They built the infrastructure of its early streets, drainage systems, and levees that would prove vital to the city’s survival. They populated the city and brought artisan skills sorely lacking among its white settlers. Slaves hailing from Senegal largely designed and built “the complex drainage and mortar and pestle technology of rice cultivation” that saved the colony from starvation. “France may have founded Louisiana … but it was slaves from Senegal and Congo who laid the foundation,” writes Powell.[4] In 1731, the African slave trade ended when the Companies of the Indies relinquished its charter; creole slaves would fill the void. Together, Africans and creoles not only shaped its physical landscape but also nearly every other aspect of New Orleans life.

“The creation of a hybrid culture – a Creole culture, whose whole was always greater than the sum of its ethnic parts,” notes Powell, “is one of the Atlantic World’s most vital contributions to modernity.”[5] The French and Haitian Revolutions furthered such developments as refugees from both settled in New Orleans. The addition of Spanish and later American rule added additional cultural flavors and an ad-hoc sense of addressing problems. “They say New Orleans was a Creole city,” Powell muses, but “It’s probably just as accurate to call it a creolized city, for that’s how the place was cobbled together – from the bricolage of cultural borrowings and solutions improvised on the fly.”[6]

As often is the case with colonies, the distance from the home country gave settlers and colonial leaders a certain amount of license. Attempts to build a large-scale tobacco industry failed; the climate simply would not allow for the production of a high quality product that could compete with that of its English competitors. Smuggling, gambling, and other forms of vice laid a basic economic foundation for residents, and this underground economy even drew in the ruling classes. This distance also led to a great deal of interracial interaction ranging from business dealings and gambling wagers in the backrooms of taverns to sexual couplings in the bedrooms of the common and elite.

Mixed race sexual relations occurred from the city’s founding. Male settlers first cohabited with local Native American women and while institutionalizing relationships between enslaved and free peoples through marriage was not legal, sexual relations were common and in many cases led to the growing free black population. “For here, especially during the Spanish period, interracial unions were a significant well spring of free black growth,” writes Powell. By 1791, the free black community made up 20 percent of New Orleans’s population and within that 20 percent over half were of racially mixed ancestry.[7]

I. Tanesse, William Rollinson, Charles Del Vecchio, and P. Maspero, Plan of the city and suburbs of New Orleans: from an actual survey in 1815, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

For readers not versed in New Orleans history prior to incorporation into the U.S., as is the case with this writer, Spain’s influence on New Orleans might prove surprising. Powell credits Spain with the city’s iconic “vernacular architecture.” Spanish colonial rulers even established New Orleans’ first public market, The French Market. However, Spain struggled to deliver comprehensive infrastructure projects. This was not unique to the Spanish. The physical environment often proved simply too powerful an actor for any governing body. “New Orleans’ quasi liquid landscape continually mocked European efforts to erase nature from the landscape,” Powell points out.[8]

As always, an exception to this rule existed. By the end of the eighteenth century the levee system, though problematic, still subject to seepage, and vulnerable to inundation, did largely avoid mass flooding. The town, however, remained filthy: “the wet garbage of New Orleans seemed nastier than the dry garbage elsewhere.”[9]

Powell also highlights the ways in which Spanish slave policy, though hardly humane, contributed to a growing free black population that would influence the city in countless ways. The colonial Spanish caste system, though clearly invested in racial hierarchy, had some fluidity. Individuals could change their racial status. ‘The truly remarkable feature about the sistema de castas was its malleability,” Powell points out. “Racial identity might be ascribed at birth, bit it wasn’t fixed at birth.” The system could be “played,” and baptism, marriage, and acquired wealth were just three ways to “lighten” one’s complexion and advance up the colonial Spanish caste system. One can find similar examples in Spanish and Mexican California.

Yet this malleability also led many free blacks to invest in the same system. After all, if one could find “cracks” in the system to advance socially and economically, that system might be worth protecting: “And herein lay the genius of the caste system: it encouraged subaltern classes to be unequal partners in erecting this distinctive tripartite structure of racial segmentation.”[10] Oppressors might have imposed the system, but, to paraphrase Gramsci, hegemony takes work. In this case, free blacks shared the work with New Orleans’s European settlers.

Benjamin Moore Norman, Henry Mollhausen and Shields and Hammong, Norman’s plan of New Orleans & environs, 1845, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

In The Accidental City, Powell synthesizes a wealth of scholarship on the city and in doing so covers a great deal more ground than that which is discussed here. Much of the book’s first half explores the economics and politics of colonial New Orleans, while the second half devotes more attention to the ramifications of slavery and the creation of a creole culture. It largely ends with American rule of the city, though he does spend some time describing the tightening of racial lines and other aspects of the city’s incorporation into the United States.

Stylistically, Powell is more gifted than most; the Tulane professor knows how to turn a phrase. When discussing the end of the French period, Powell describes the city’s improvisational nature, flouting of Enlightenment ideals, and wayward relationship to the law as “though the entire town had been populated with inhabitants parachuted from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.”[11] The shift in architecture and urban planning during the Spanish period meant the spilling out of the city’s boundaries physically and demographically; the expansion of Creole cottages with four square rooms, most with a front room louvered door and “a shuttered casement window that peered out on the street like some heavy lidded favorite uncle.”[12] The increased number of freed slaves, while under Spanish rule, though not welcome, were eventually accepted by slave owners since “replacement costs were defrayed by cash provided by self purchaser whom the new slaves were replacing. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that the road to freedom was paved with the millstones of bondage”[13] One could go on with other examples.

Admittedly, women make far fewer appearances than men. Powell devotes several pages to the efforts and political stature of the Ursuline Nuns and there is some discussion of women in more general terms be they enslaved, free women of color, or white, but whether due to lack of sources or scholarship on the subject, they remain largely a secondary focus, not exactly ignored but also not at the forefront.

Currier and Ives, The city of New Orleans, and the Mississippi River Lake Pontchartrain in distance, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

In the end, The Accidental City accomplishes quite a lot. For anyone starting their work on New Orleans or who issimply interested in dipping their toe into the city’s rich history, the book offers much. Powell’s love for the city comes through clearly. He believes it to be a singular contribution to global society. More than “a mere entrepot for a continent” the city emerged as a “state of mind built on the edge of disaster. The people of three continents of innumerable races and ethnic backgrounds “were forced to crowd together on slopes of the natural levee and somehow learned to improvise a coexistence whose legacy may be America’s only original contribution to world culture.”[14]


[1] Lawrence Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2012), 55.

[2] Jennifer Spear, Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2009); Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Race, Sex, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2013), 34.

[3] Powell, The Accidental City, 72-73.

[4] Powell, The Accidental City, 74.

[5] Powell, The Accidental City, 97.

[6] Powell, The Accidental City, 205.

[7] Powell, The Accidental City, 286.

[8] Powell, The Accidental City, 205.

[9] Powell, The Accidental City, 207.

[10] Powell, The Accidental City, 294-296.

[11] Powell, The Accidental City, 120.

[12] Powell, The Accidental City, 202.

[13] Powell, The Accidental City, 283.

[14] Powell, The Accidental City, 163.

Member of the Week: Kenvi Phillips

kenvi RadKenvi Phillips, PhD

Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

Among the topics I am currently interested in is the Colored Y Campaign lead by Rev. Jesse E. Moorland in the early 20th century. The efforts of the national and local YMCA offices, local communities, and the Rosenwald Fund acquired enough money to have more than 20 YMCA buildings built for African American men across the country. The construction of these buildings helped to shape urban space and opportunities for its members. I first became interested in Moorland and the Young Men’s Christian Association a few years ago while I was working at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. There I came across one of Moorland’s scrapbooks from the St. Louis campaign. In the book was a photo of the organizing committee on an urban block with which I was unfamiliar. As a native of St. Louis, I thought that I was aware of all of the city’s neighborhoods, but this photo introduced me to an entire community that I had heard of in passing but had never before seen. These organizations through these buildings transformed both the physical and metaphysical landscape for African American men in urban centers across the country.

Describe what you are currently curating. How does this work relate to your scholarship?

I am the Curator for Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. As a curator I am working to expand one of the nation’s best collections on American women to be more inclusive. This means exploring communities, organizations and individuals that have been traditionally overlooked and underrepresented in archives and subsequently in scholarship. Uncovering the lives and stories of underrepresented women, many of them from or influential in urban communities across the nation, is critical to understanding the development of the American city as well as the suburb. Curators and collections managers are constantly uncovering and sometimes rediscovering past people and events that alter our understanding of American culture. Additionally, through our collecting we get to influence the direction of future research and scholarship. Women that we encounter today whose stories we archive, via oral histories, diaries, correspondence, publications and more will be the subject of current and future research.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Cheryl Knott’s Not Free, Not For All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow, and Daphne Spain’s Constructive Feminism: Women’s Spaces and Women’s Rights in the American City.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I would advise young scholars interested in both public and academic tracks not to be dismayed by the broadening of their professional interests because all things are related. A course that you teach on Second Wave feminism or an exhibition that you need to develop on 19th century cooking can and should be influenced by urban history. Making those connections often times will ignite your passion for urban history allowing you to make it more accessible to wider audiences.

What texts or readings would you recommend on the topic of your research?

There are not that many secondary sources that cover the history of the colored YMCA. There are quite a few Progressive era texts and primary source materials that I use. However, Nina Mjagkij has done an awesome job with the following two titles: Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946, and the book she co-authored with Margaret Ann Spratt, Men and Women Adrift: The YMCA and YWCA in the City.

Masking New Orleans’s Tragic Pasts

“Mardi Gras Parade, New Orleans, LA”, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, March 8, 2011, Part of Carol M. Highsmith collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

New Orleans has just roared through its season of celebration and excess that ends on Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday. A big part of the annual carnival is the donning of masks. Celebrants tossing beads from floats hide their true identities; members of marching crews disguise their faces; and one of the trademark gifts of the season, sold by the thousand, is a mask.

The impulse to mask spills over into other seasonal celebrations. Halloween and other events where masking is allowed take on an even more significant role here in New Orleans. And I would argue, the spill over does not end there. Certain aspects of the city’s past, most notably tragic events, tend to get obscured or masked over.

Just as much as Mardi Gras is a defining event for New Orleans, its historic architecture along with traditional music and foods provide the basis for its heritage tourism. The French Quarter offers a rare glimpse into rare Europe-in-America landscape; the sprawling battlefield in Chalmette hosts visitors; each spring the Jazz and Heritage Fest assembles an impressive line up of local musical talent; and chefs dish out plates of creole fare. What is missing from the sampler of local traditions are the defining historical events that shaped the city, but that are associated with disaster. Tragedy wears a mask in the city that care forgot.

Historians have not neglected the floods and hurricanes, but there have been precious few reminders in the landscape, and until Katrina, the only real memorials were the massive levees constructed to protect the city from high water. These structures are the masks that obscure our view of tragic pasts.

“Barbershop located in Ninth Ward New Orleans, LA, damaged by Hurricane Katrina”, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, April 13, 2006, Part of Carol M. Highsmith collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Three major hurricanes struck the city in the 20th century, each inspired the construction of protective bulwarks, but no memorials, no markers, or remembrances. The 1915 hurricane caused extensive damage to lakefront dwellings and businesses. Property owners and civic leaders voiced determination to rebuild and restore their place in the city. The local levee board launched a nearly 20-year campaign to build a concrete seawall 9.5 feet above the lake level to provide protection from a similar storm in the future. Some 32 years later the next major storm once again drove water from the lake into the city and the new post-war suburbs in Jefferson Parish. Floods in the adjacent bedroom community prompted appeals to the Corps of Engineers to build a lakefront levee to protect suburban homeowners. And they did so. Hurricane Betsy roared ashore in 1965 and caused even more substantial damage across the urban area. Following this storm, the Corps proposed an even more ambitious levee system to surround the urban area. Its construction was fraught with delays and controversies, and it was still under construction in 2005 when Katrina made landfall.

Despite the absence of memorials for the previous storms, the hurricane protection system, which failed in 2005, was the most obvious reminder. Yet it masked the past, it provided that all-important false sense of security and prompted many to refuse the evacuation order as Katrina made its tragic landfall. There have been numerous structural improvements since Katrina, but there have also been a spate of markers and events to provide visual reminders. State historical markers have been placed at the location of the major levee breaches; there is a memorial cemetery, and a memorial sculpture in the Lower 9th Ward. People have even attached bronze markers to their houses that recall the spray-painted markings left by emergency responders. A form of “disaster tourism” has emerged gaining mixed reviews from local residents. The masks have been tossed aside.

“Damaged House after 2005 Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, LA”, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, Part of Carol M. Highsmith collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

But the grand irony is that emergency planners have argued in recent years that local populations have already begun to lose that sense of urgency that erupts in the wake of tragic events. That is, they are not responding to warnings about the annual hurricane season. After Hurricane Isaac in 2012, one critical report noted that emergency responders failed to utilize the plans developed in the wake of Katrina. They were setting aside the lessons learned less than a decade after the most dramatic storm in the city’s history. A complacency has begun to emerge, even with the masks removed.

Craig E. Colten, Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography at Louisiana State University. Colten will be speaking on April 8, at the UHA luncheon at this year’s Organization of American Historians conference. For more information see here.

For more on Colten: Craig Colten, Perilous Place and Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana (2009) and Craig Colten, “Historic City with a Poor Memory,” in The “Katrina Effect”: On the Nature of Catastrophe, editors William Taylor and Michael P. Levine, 305-330. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

A Big Easy Bibliography

New Orleans, Louisiana“, Henry Lewis, 1857, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“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.

Arcade of Crescent and Tulane Theaters, New Orleans, Louisiana“, 1906, Prints and Photographs Division, Manuscript Division

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

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


Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans, showing the youngest workers and typical of conditions in New Orleans“, Lewis Hines photographer, November 1913, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Labor History

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)

Cultural History

Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, (NY: Columbia University Press, 1996) – Theatre Journal review (via project muse)

Ned Sublette, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2008) – NYT review


ArchitectsDrawing_GSA_NO_US Customs House 423 Canal St 1857
Architect’s Drawing, New Orleans Custom House, 1857, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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)

James B. Bennett, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2005) – Journal of American History review

John W. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 1860-1880, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973) – Journal of Negro 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.

The plantation police or home-guard examining Negro passes on the levee road below New Orleans“, Frederic B. Shell artist, 1863, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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

Lawrence Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012) – Southern Spaces 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 Paxon photographer, circa 1864, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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

Jennifer Spear, Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans, (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 2009) – Journal of American History review

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

Cecile Vidal, ed., Louisiana: Crossroads of the Atlantic World, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) – Southern Spaces review

Minter Wood, “Life in New Orleans in the Spanish Period.” Louisiana Historical Quarterly XXII (1939): 642-709.

Environmental History

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

Night Scene showing hotel lit up for Mardi Gras, with seats on platform in front, New Orleans, Louisiana“, circa 1903, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Twentieth Century

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


Scene in New Orleans, Louisiana. Street Tailor“, Ben Shan photographer, October 1935, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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

Peirce F. Lewis, New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape, (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1976) – University of Chicago Press Journals 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)

Street Scene, New Orleans, Louisiana“, Ben Shan photographer, October 1935, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, (NY: Columbia University Press, 1996) – Theatre Journal review (via project muse)

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

In the Midst of Levee, Life, and Cotton Traffic, New Orleans, LA“, Standard Scenic Company, 1907, Prints and Photographs Division


Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedecker, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013) – Chicago Tribune review / New Orleans Review

Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, (Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006)

Edited Volume – General

Arnold R. Hirsch, ed., Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992) – JAH review

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)



Member of the Week: Koji Hirata

Koji HirataKoji Hirata

PhD Candidate

Department of History, Stanford University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

Drawing on archival sources in Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, my dissertation, “Steel Metropolis: Industrial Manchuria and the Making of Chinese Socialism, 1909–1964,” tells the story of the rise and fall of the largest steel enterprise in China under Mao’s rule (1949-1976), Anshan Steel and Iron Works, and its urban base, Anshan City, in Manchuria (Northeast China). Particularly intriguing to me is the transnational character of this showcase of Mao’s “socialist industrialization,” with whose construction Japanese engineers, Soviet advisors, and Chinese experts from the pre-Communist regime were deeply involved.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I taught introductory classes on modern Chinese history, modern Japanese history, and world history of science as a teaching assistant. The experience reminds me to think about how my local research matters in the contexts of national and international history. This is especially important to me, given that one of the most frequent questions I receive from my interviewees from the city is: “Why are you studying such a minor place?”

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am excited for Isabella Jackson’s forthcoming book, Shaping Modern Shanghai: Colonialism in China’s Global City. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in the autumn. This will show how global connections of people, goods, and thoughts shaped what has been called China’s “most modern” city.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

I think studying a city shows us the complexity and contingency of history. In my own research I am fascinated by the contrast between the high modernist visions of city planners and the rather chaotic process of urban formation on the ground. This helped me feel better about the gap between my dissertation writing plan and its real process.

What is your favorite city, and why?

Shanghai. Where else on earth can you sit at Starbucks, view the latest Hollywood movie, see French colonial-style architecture, and pay a pilgrimage to the building where the Chinese Communist Party was first established within a walking distance?

A New Destination

The High Bridge, Manhattan/Bronx, New York City. 2015.

Welcome to The Metropole, the new blog of the Urban History Association. We envision this digital space as the hub of the Association’s scholarly network, bringing together UHA members who live scattered throughout the United States and across the globe. Furthermore, our aim is for The Metropole to serve as a central public square where anyone interested in urban history can find and share new scholarship, engage in debate, and learn more about cities around the globe.

In the interest of drawing together such a large association, we are launching a Member of the Week series. Each Tuesday on The Metropole, a different member will get the opportunity to answer a few questions about their scholarship, teaching, and interests in urban history—including a lightning round question that will change from week to week! Our goal with this series is to highlight scholars at different stages of their careers, from graduate students to professors emerita or emeritus, and especially urban historians working in non-traditional, alt-ac, or non-academic jobs. Furthermore, we aim for geographic diversity. Member of the Week posts will feature scholars living and working throughout and beyond the United States, as well as those that study a wide variety of global cities. Finally, we aspire to highlight UHA members of a wide range of intersecting identities, including (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality. Check back tomorrow for our first Member of the Week post, and we invite you to email if you are interested in being featured.

This week, The Metropole will also inaugurate the “Metropolis of the Month”. In April our attention will turn towards New Orleans—to coincide with the conference of the Organization of American Historians taking place there this upcoming weekend—and in May we will head southwest to Mexico City,  in June north to Seattle, and in July west (or east depending on where one begins) to Honolulu. We also welcome reader suggestions for future metropolises. Blog posts will include a mix of recurring features and unique content, including interviews, book reviews, bibliographies, article roundups, and highlights from archival collections. We hope that scholars will enjoy having an opportunity to showcase their research, make connections between different urban environments, and get inspired to plan their next vacation.

Finally, we also hope to shine a spotlight on the inspiring activism, public scholarship, and digital projects in which our members are involved. In late April, we will begin a monthly series highlighting scholar-activists. In the coming weeks, we will also publish posts that introduce new or enduring work in the digital humanities that is related to urban topics.

We hope that members will actively participate in this new forum—either by commenting on posts or by sharing them on social media. The Metropole is only as strong as its army of scholars. We are also open to pitches or new ideas for series. We are especially interested in posts/series written by or for: graduate students and early career scholars, urban scholars working outside academia, and those with underrepresented perspectives. You can reach us at

Avigail Oren, Ryan Reft, and Hope Shannon

The Official Blog of the Urban History Association