Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
New Orleans, the only major American city below sea level (2.4 to 3 meters below in some places), depends on a system of levees and natural buffers, such as coastal wetlands and barrier islands, for flood protection. When Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge breached and topped the city’s levees in the summer of 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. Post-storm queries have sought to determine how to assess and reduce the probability of future New Orleans disasters by better understanding the conditions that caused Katrina’s devastation.
(The entire section is 86 words.)
Rising Sea Levels and Hurricane Strength (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Whether New Orleans will suffer future catastrophes that are similar or worse in magnitude than the one caused by Katrina depends on a number of factors, including the current and projected effects of climate change. There is a fairly strong consensus among scientists that sea levels have increased because of global warming and will rise another 0.3 to 1 meter over the next one hundred years. Additionally, some scientists have hypothesized that, since hurricanes’ high winds, rain, and tornados are created as they push water vapor up into the atmosphere, more sea surface heat should increase the storms’ power.
A study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology combined hurricanes’ duration and wind speed to create the Power Dissipation Index to measure their intensity. The research report, which was published a month before Katrina, concluded that an examination of 1,557 Pacific and 558 Atlantic hurricanes over a thirty-year period showed a doubling of storm power, with a strong correlation between rising water temperatures and increasing hurricane strength. Research conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology similarly showed that, since the mid-1990’s, the number of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson scale had doubled. A report issued in 2007 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that climate change has created the...
(The entire section is 299 words.)
Loss of Natural Protections (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Historically, Southeast Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and barrier islands have served as natural buffers that reduced hurricane damage to New Orleans (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asserts that 4.3 kilometers of wetlands dissipates 0.3 meter of storm surge). Soil subsidence, meanwhile, was counteracted by continuous silt deposits from the Mississippi River. Both human development and climate change have created the potential for extensive damage from future storms. Flood control and navigation projects stopped the land buildup from the Mississippi River in both the wetlands and the New Orleans area, while the channels created by the oil industry sped up the pace of coastal erosion.
The combined effects of sea level rise, land subsidence, and erosion have resulted in the loss of thousands of square kilometers of Louisiana’s coastal land, a 1-meter increase in “relative sea level” for New Orleans over the past one hundred years (one-third due to sea rise and two-thirds due to soil compaction), and concerns that New Orleans may be on the coast in another one hundred years. The destruction of barrier islands has also increased (Katrina destroyed half of the Chandeleur Islands located east of New Orleans). Many experts claim that current and proposed coastal restoration efforts would only minimally reduce annual losses.
(The entire section is 208 words.)
Government Responses and Calls for Action (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Whether New Orleans can avoid future disasters of Katrina’s magnitude will depend on the effectiveness of measures that have been taken and the implementation of additional proposals for better protecting the city. The federal government began increasing the height and strength of the levees shortly after Katrina, and millions of dollars have been spent on coastal restoration programs. Critics argue that these measures cannot begin to counteract the ongoing effects of global warming. They propose that a comprehensive approach that includes billions of dollars in coastal restoration projects and local, national, and global efforts to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be necessary to ensure New Orleans’s future survival. Private organizations have rebuilt neighborhoods in New Orleans using green construction to serve as pilot projects to promote energy-efficient housing everywhere and have joined with scientists and legislators in calling for the federal government to end its resistence to both increasing investment in renewable clean energy and participating in international agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
(The entire section is 168 words.)
Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Within the debate over the best ways to secure New Orleans’s future, there are those who assert that concerns about that city’s fate should be viewed as a wake-up call that draws attention to a much broader threat. They posit that, if the future effects of global warming occur as currently projected, all of America’s coastal areas, where half of the nation’s population resides, would be in danger from catastrophes caused by coastal erosion, higher sea levels, and strong storms. This could result in cities like New York and Miami being below sea level and dependent on levees for protection, as New Orleans’s improved levee system becomes obsolete and ineffective. The IPCC report asserts that, during the next century, coastal communities all over the world will be at risk of disasters like Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. This report also states that, beyond the hundred-year projections, current rates of ocean temperature increases could cause much higher sea levels as huge Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melt.
(The entire section is 172 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Mooney, Chris C. Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2007. A New Orleanian examines the debate regarding the effect of global warming on increased hurricane threats, including the impact of leading authorities, interest groups, politics, and the media. Appendixes, bibliography, and recommended reading.
Sargent, William. Just Seconds from the Ocean: Coastal Living in the Wake of Katrina. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2007. Uses analyses of historical and recent coastal disasters to posit that shortsighted development has increased the effects of global warming and undermined natural safeguards such as barrier islands and wetlands. Argues for more effective environmental and coastal regulatory policy initiatives.
Tidwell, Mike. The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities. New York: Free Press, 2006. The author, who predicted Hurricane Katrina in a 2003 publication, asserts that cities everywhere will experience similar catastrophes absent a concerted, comprehensive effort to address the causes of global warming, which will otherwise continue to raise sea levels and produce stronger hurricanes.
(The entire section is 174 words.)
New Orleans (American History Through Literature)
According to many literary histories, New Orleans became significant after the end of Reconstruction with the publication of George Washington Cable's nationally popular short stories and novels. Cable's works of fiction, especially The Grandissimes (1880), introduced the national reading public to the peculiar cultural geography of New Orleans, the ethnic clashes of "Creoles" and "Americans," and the legacies of slavery and racial mixture in the city. A number of studies have traced the "myth of New Orleans" in literature from Cable forward. However, looking back to the middle decades of the nineteenth century demonstrates the city's unique role in the literary imagination of the United States.
URBANIZATION AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
New Orleans was diverse from the beginning. In the half century preceding Louisiana's statehood in 1812, the territory had transferred from French to Spanish back to French and finally to American rule with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The French-speaking or "Creole" population, comprised primarily of descendants of the colonial period and refugees from the Haitian Revolution, dominated in the city during the early two decades of the nineteenth century. The bulk of the refugees made it to New Orleans in 1809 indirectly from their first resettlement in Cuba. This group consisted in almost equal numbers of whites, slaves, and free people of color. Slavery was officially outlawed throughout the French colonies in 1794, although Napoleon reinstated slavery later. This led to renewed fighting in Haiti and its subsequent declaration of a free independent state. The free people of color émigrés also had free status in New Orleans. However, after the arrival of the steamboat in 1812 and the expansion of the cotton and sugar economies of the old Southwest, migrants from English-speaking states flooded the city in response to its new commercial potential. Indeed, by 1850 New Orleans was, after New York City, America's second-busiest port and financial center. In the early part of the century New Orleans was little more than a grid of seven streets by twelve. However, by 1870, despite the shortage of habitable land, New Orleans had snaked along the Mississippi River to absorb the nearby plantations and towns.
The population of New Orleans population grew from about 20,000 in 1810 to approximately 180,000 in 1850, absorbing waves of immigration from the Caribbean and Europe and a steady stream of English speakers from other states. Approximately 350,000 immigrants entered New Orleans between 1847 and 1857, fleeing famine in Ireland and political repression
Although linguistic diversity was a hallmark of antebellum New Orleans, perhaps the most distinguishing of its features among cities in the United States was its large mixed-race free population. Numbering almost twenty thousand at its peak in 1840, this group of free people of color, or gens de couleur libre as they were called, had its roots in the colonial period, when French and Spanish colonials manumitted their children by slave women. Natural increase and the influx of free people of color from Haiti in 1809 reinforced this group formally separated from slaves and whites by laws carefully circumscribing their marriage. Nevertheless, a tradition of inter-racial liaisons persisted, supported by informal institutions, such as the quadroon ball, social occasions for white men and free women of color, and plaçage, a practice by which a white man literally "placed" a woman of color under his protection; in many such cases the man would provide a home for the woman and their children.
Many historians have described the mid-nineteenth century in New Orleans as a period of "Americanization," a process in which English replaced French as the language of state and French and Spanish racial customs, characterized by the acknowledgment of racial mixture, faded before an Anglo-American black-white binary. During the antebellum period a sense of a fading Creole dominance and an Anglo-American ascendancy colored New Orleans politics. From 1836 until 1852 the city was split into three different municipalities, roughly corresponding to ethnic distinctions between French and English speakers. During the schism, Charles Gayarré (1805895), the preeminent historian of nineteenth-century Louisiana and a state senator, created an ideology of place that would assert Creole priority in Louisiana. His writing effected an ethnic reconciliation with English-speaking Americans and established "whiteness" as the ideology through which this reconciliation would take place. Gayarré's efforts culminated in a four-volume History of Louisiana (1854), offered in French and English and cast in the mold of Walter Scott's romantic nationalism. In Gayarré's account, French and Spanish colonials melded, albeit violently at times, to form a poetic race of "Creoles," and Creoles and "Americans" combined to embody the true Louisianian, while Native Americans disappeared without protest and Africans continued to provide menial and hard labor. During the 1850s Gayarré's historical account accompanied laws curtailing the rights of people of African descent and granting liberties to those who could establish a white identity.
SLAVERY AND RACE
New Orleans was simultaneously a place of great wealth and opportunity and a site of immense suffering and despair. Nothing demonstrates this paradox as much as the context of slavery. New Orleans depended heavily on the slave economyn sugar and cotton, the agricultural products of the slave system, and also on the buying and selling of human property itself. The prominence of slavery in the economy of the city shaped its intellectual climate. The leading agricultural journal of the period, De Bow's Review, a clearinghouse for technical knowledge about slave agriculture and racial knowledge about enslaved Africans, was published in New Orleans between 1846 and 1869. The proslavery physician Samuel Cartwright lectured regularly in the city on slave "diseases" such as drapetomania, the "runaway disease," and dysaethesia aethiopica, causing mischievous behavior, conditions he observed on Louisiana's plantations. Josiah Nott, a resident of nearby Mobile, Alabama, and author with George Gliddon of the lengthy ethnology Types of Mankind (1854), lectured frequently in New Orleans as well on topics such as "mulatto degeneracy" and polygenesis, a theory of the separate origins of the various human races.
Even though New Orleans was a key center for proslavery writings, it also played a significant role in African American thought. The terminus for the dreaded trip "down the river" for countless enslaved people, the slave market of New Orleans determined slave prices and reconfigured slave communities whenever individuals were sold or families were split apart. One's value and the fate of one's familial ties were often a matter of one's performance. Solomon Northup (b. 1808), whose narrative Twelve Years a Slave (1853) tells of his capture as a free man in New York and subsequent sale to the Deep South, recalls slaves being made to strut about and secure a high value for themselves in order to secure an owner. Northup and other enslaved people parlayed their slave-market experiences in New Orleans into episodes of literal self-making that are the hallmark of the slave-narrative genre.
The context of slavery in New Orleans and southern Louisiana also provided a rich legacy of slave rebellion and resistance. Inspired by the slave uprisings eventually culminating in Haitian independence, enslaved people in Pointe Coupee Parish planned a large-scale but abortive revolt in 1795. Fueled by the influx of refugees from the Haitian Revolution in 1809810, fears of rebellion continued throughout the first half of the century. Despite increasingly harsh restrictions on the mobility of black people, New Orleans and its environs provided an opportunity for escaped slaves to lose themselves in anonymity. Indeed, the swamps of the region sheltered extended maroon communities (runaway slave communities operating relatively autonomously) of former slaves and their Native American allies. Imaginative writers responded to this context of resistance. In "Le Mulâtre" (The mulatto), written in 1837, the first known short story by an African American, Victor Séjour (1817874), a New Orleans free man of color who achieved fame as a dramatist in France, illustrated the injustices of slavery with an Oedipal character that murders his white father/owner and escapes punishment to join a community of maroons with the revolutionary slogan "Afrique et liberté." Set in St. Marc, Haiti, the birthplace of Séjour's father, the story was published in Revue des colonies, a Parisian journal edited by the Martiniquan Cyril Bissette.
An indispensable node in the interstate slave trade and a site of seemingly indiscriminate cultural and racial mixture, New Orleans also provided abolitionist writers with a vision of the evils of slavery and a picture of the moral depths to which the country might sink if not checked. The symbolic significance of New Orleans during the years leading up to the Civil War is exemplified in Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811896) Uncle Tom's Cabin, published serially in the National Era in 1851852. Articulating a moral judgment on slavery and the environment that would support it, the character of Ophelia, a New England spinster, pronounces New Orleans to be "old and heathenish." This moral atmosphere is contagious, endangering transplants to the region, such as the villainous slave-holder Simon Legree, who becomes irredeemably evil.
One of the most important figures in the sentimental antislavery literature was the tragic mixed-race character who appeared to be white but who had black ancestry and thus suffered under slavery and other race-based social ills. In the context of slavery, the mixed-race woman, or "fancy girl," commanded large sums of money because the distance between her apparent and "actual" identity heightened the slave master's sexual desire. In the context of antislavery literature, the mixed-race character commanded increased sympathy from a primarily white reading audience who could see its own features in her white visage. Gustave de Beaumont (1802866), the traveling partner of Alexis de Tocqueville, published Marie; ou, L'esclavage aux ats-Unis in Paris in 1835 using the title character, a mixed-race woman from a New Orleans family, as a vehicle for demonstrating the injustices of racial hierarchy in the United States. Likewise, the dramatist Dion Boucicault's (1820890) The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, a wildly popular drama of slavery in Louisiana and an ill-fated romance between a near-white enslaved woman and her white suitor, was staged in 1859 in New York and London.
While important symbolically in the debate over slavery and race and an irresistible subject for antislavery moralists, the francophone mixed-race population of New Orleans managed to form its own literary tradition during the antebellum period. Writing in the progressive tradition of French Romanticism and in some cases living in exile in France, free people of color of New Orleans drew inspiration from radical French activists such as Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine. In 1845 Armand Lanusse (1812867), a teacher, edited Les Cenelles, an anthology of poetry by free men of color which is often cited as the first African American poetry anthology. Although Les Cenelles has drawn criticism for its specific failure to condemn slavery, its themes of exile and return, denied birthright, and the melancholy caused by caste distinction align it closely with the politically progressive Romantic literature of France.
RECONSTRUCTION AND BEYOND
New Orleans played as strategic a role in the political economy of Reconstruction America as it did in the moral economy of antislavery literature. Captured by Union troops in May 1862, southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, had perhaps one of the longest reconstructions in the South and thus became a testing ground for Reconstruction policies. Abraham Lincoln hoped that the relatively strong Union sentiment in the city would make Louisiana a prime candidate for readmittance to the Union under his 10 Percent Plan, whereby 10 percent of the Confederate population would swear oaths of allegiance to the United States. The conservative 1864 state constitution produced under this plan provoked opposition from Radical Republicans locally and nationally. At the forefront of the new campaign for racial equality and political reform, free people of color published the official newspaper of the Republican Party, the New Orleans Tribune (1864870). The Tribune and its predecessor, L'Union de la Nouvelle Orleans (1862864), offered news in French and English as well as poetry and serialized fiction. Although the political climate of New Orleans was extremely volatile, the proximity in the city of former Confederates and former slaves, an educated group of activists of color, Union occupiers, and carpetbagger politicians, provided an opportunity for some to imagine racial, cultural, and sectional reconciliation. Lydia Maria Child (1802880) dramatized this potential in her Romance of the Republic (1867), a novel that used the setting and cast of characters available in New Orleans to speculate about the ways in which a stronger United States could emerge from the ashes of the Civil War.
In the decades that ensued, New Orleansn reality and in literatureitnessed heated and often violent debate over controversial issues ranging from federal jurisdiction to race relations. Struggles for black social equality and white supremacy originating in New Orleans played themselves out on a local and national scene, resulting most significantly in the compromise ending Reconstruction in 1876 and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which declared segregation to be constitutional. Against this backdrop, late-nineteenth-century "local color" writers such as Cable, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and others entertained national audiences with exotic characters and local dialect. However, this seemingly benign body of literature extends the legacy of a volatile century of Americanization, offering readers and scholars a window onto the fraught issues of racial, cultural, and national identity.
See also Abolitionist Writing; Civil War; Ethnology; Foreigners; Immigration; Miscegenation; Proslavery Writing; Slave Narratives; Slave Rebellions; Slavery; Uncle Tom's Cabin
Beaumont, Gustaive de. Marie; ou, L'esclavage aux atsUnis, tableau de moeurs américaines [Marie; or, slavery in the United States: A novel of Jacksonian America]. 1835. Translated by Barbara Chapman. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1958.
Bouciault, Dion. The Octoroon. 1866. Cambridge, U.K.: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996.
Cable, George Washington. The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life. New York: Scribners, 1880.
Child, Lydia Maria. A Romance of the Republic. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Gayarré, Charles. History of Louisiana. New York: Redfield, 1854; W. J. Widdleton, 1866.
Lanusse, Armand. Les Cenelles: A Collection of Poems of Creole Writers of the Early Nineteenth Century. Translated by Regine Latortue and Gleason Rex Adams. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.
Nott, Josiah, and George Glidden. Types of Mankind; or, Ethnological Researches, Based upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races. 1854. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott; London: Trubner, 1865.
Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. London: Auburn, Derby, and Miller, 1853.
Reizenstein, Baron Ludwig von. The Mysteries of New Orleans. Translated and edited by Steven Rowan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Séjour, Victor. "Le Mûlatre." In The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature: A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations, edited by Marc Shell and Werner Sollors. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. 1851852. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Bell, Caryn Cossé. Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718868. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1997.
Bryan, Violet Harrington. The Myth of New Orleans in Literature: Dialogues of Race and Gender. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Hirsch, Arnold, and Joseph Logsdon. Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Reinders, Robert. The End of an Era: New Orleans 1850860. New Orleans: Pelican Press, 1964.
Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Rowan, Steve. "Introduction." In The Mysteries of New Orleans, by Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein, edited by Steven Rowan, pp. xiiixxiii. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Ryan, Mary. Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Shirley E. Thompson