As 2018 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on this year and its meaning for a place that has become near and dear to my heart (and in-progress dissertation): New Orleans. Founded by the French in 1718, Louisiana’s largest city has been celebrating its tricentennial for months and in a way that only New Orleans can. Ranked number one on the New York Times “52 Places to Go in 2018” list, New Orleans continues to attract first-timers curious to discover “America’s most foreign city.” Repeat visitors, myself included, just can’t get enough, although my trips have taken me beyond Bourbon Street, from the attic of the city’s colonial-era Ursuline convent to the notarial archives of Orleans Parish, hidden within a twenty-story office building a stone’s throw from the Superdome. My own excursions aside, how exactly have we gone about celebrating, remembering, and thinking about the history of early New Orleans in 2018? What does the future hold?
Today at The Junto, Philippe Halbert interviews Erin M. Greenwald about her exhibition, New Orleans, the Founding Era, on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection through the 27 of May. Edited by Greenwald, the accompanying English-French publication features interdisciplinary essays by eight leading scholars and an illustrated catalogue. Before beginning as Curator of Programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2017, Greenwald was senior curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection, where she curated exhibitions including Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865, a traveling exhibition funded by the NEH and awarded the AASLH Leadership in History Award of Merit. Her first monograph, Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World, was published by LSU Press in 2016. Greenwald also chairs the New Orleans Slave Trade Marker and App Project, an initiative of the 2018 Tricentennial Commission, which anticipates placing six interpretive markers designating sites in New Orleans with direct links to the slave trade this summer.
Jessica Blake is a PhD candidate in U.S. History at the University of California-Davis, where she is completing a dissertation entitled, “A Taste for Africa: Imperial Fantasy and Clothes Commerce in Revolutionary-era New Orleans.” She is currently a dissertation fellow at the Winterthur Museum and Archive.
In 1808, the New Orleans trader John Joly placed an advertisement in the Moniteur de la Louisiane for a shipment of large Angola shawls (grands shals d’Angola), a rectangular cloth of African construction meant to drape over the shoulders. Joly marketed the cloth for the general consumer, making no indication that he considered it a product intended solely for use by enslaved or free people of color.
In the past 10 years, we have seen an embarrassment of riches in scholarship that considers race in Early America (broadly understood). The list below is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the recent scholarship. Feel free to add your own favorite recent scholarship in the comments, and keep your eyes out next month, for our CFP for a roundtable on race in Early America.
Jennifer Goloboy is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary in St. Paul, MN. She has a PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University, and has published articles on merchants and the early American middle class. Her book, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era, will be published by University of Georgia Press on October 10.
As the new history of capitalism reminds us of the immense wealth that traveled through antebellum cotton ports, an old analytical problem remains—why didn’t Southern merchants invest in their communities, in the manner of the Boston Associates? Historians have traditionally explained that this lack of investment was caused by Southern culture: the Southern commitment to slavery, shared by its mercantile class, mandated a conservative approach to economic investment and a fear of change. For example, Scott P. Marler’s recent book on merchants in New Orleans claimed that “in the context of the slave society in which they were deeply implicated, their peculiar market culture discouraged the investments necessary for the city to modernize its economic base,” such as manufacturing and railroad-building.
Welcome back to the week(s) in early American history! Continue reading