American studies

American Cities: New Orleans

Module code: T7047
Level 5
15 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

The Big Easy evokes dozens of images from Spanish moss draped buildings, mint juleps by the Mississippi, Mardi Gras parades and Louis Armstrong's horn, to desperate crowds in Hurricane Katrina. Some of the images are based in reality, others in fantasy and others form part of a constructed narrative. In this module you will contextualise the city's place in French and Spanish colonisation and we will consider the growth and expansion of the city, considering New Orleans' pivotal role in the slave trade and the regional cotton economy. You will examine the environmental history of the city, assess the importance of the Mississippi to its growth and consider its liminal position between the Caribbean and America.

Turning to the 20th century you will assess why New Orleans was among the first cities to institute racial segregation and how its black population resisted those efforts in politics, writing and of course in jazz music. You will also assess the rich literary tradition of New Orleans' writers from George Washington Cable to Kate Chopin, William Faulkner and to more contemporary writers in south Louisiana such as Earnest Gaines. You will explore why the city became America's notorious center of vice (long before Las Vegas) and we discuss why Americans have long considered the city a den of iniquity, mired in gothic exceptionalism, somehow removed from the national story, but so representative of it. Finally we take our story to the present and unpack why in a land of exceptional plenty there should be such urban poverty exposed for the world to see during Hurricane Katrina.

Module learning outcomes

  • Critically understand and apply multi-diciplinary approaches to the study of urban and regional culture.
  • Evaluate regional distinctiveness and its cultural signifers.
  • Conduct independent research in preparation for problem-solving in written exercise.
  • Provide critical commentary on these debates in an informed way, and articulate such commentary in a focus group (workshop) setting and in written work.