Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans

Lawrence N. Powell's The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Harvard University Press, 2012) gives a wonderful account of the history of the founding of La Nouvelle-Orléans, then continues through the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, ending with a brief account of organizing Mardi Gras parades in 1857. As for the American takeover in the 1800s: "It was hard to remain a Puritan in Babylon while so much dancing was going on" (page 358).   

Water routes and locations above sea level, strategic considerations and underfunded military-commercial operations led the entrepreneurs, administrators and engineers of Nouvelle-France to experiment and improvise. With relatively few French settlers overall, the most effective leaders maintained good relations with First Nations in the area, trading and intermingling. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville pulled off the official creation of La Nouvelle-Orléans in 1718 -- seventeen years after the founding of Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit (i.e. Detroit, Michigan). Sieur de Bienville is, indeed, a key player in the first half of the book inside a field of many colorful characters.   

From The Accidental City, the reader will learn all sorts of interesting things about New France, Spanish city planning influences and administration, trade with First Nations, the impact of slavery, codes and systems of race and social hierarchy, and many lively details involving conflict, improvisation and resilience. Among other wonders, one discovers buffalo herds in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the early 1700s, and far-flung hopes to turn Louisiana into a tobacco colony. It's one nutty ride.

Today's Rune: Initiation.      

1 comment:

t said...

Buffaloes in Biloxi - how poetic.