January 29, 2008
“If journalism is the first draft of history, then this is the second draft,” says Lawrence Powell, professor of history at Tulane and a guest editor of a special issue of The Journal of American History that explores a broad spectrum of issues emerging from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The journal’s December issue, “Through the Eye of Katrina: The Past as Prologue,” grew out of a multidisciplinary academic conference held in March 2007 and comprises more than 20 essays that reflect not only a multidisciplinary approach but also the passage of time.
“We are beginning to get some perspective on what Katrina means,” says Powell. “Ten years from now people will have more perspective and we’ll never know what it all means. Each generation will find a different meaning.”
To be in the generation that actually experienced the “detonating event” that was Katrina can be sometimes surreal, says Powell. “For some of us, as historians it was a kind of out-of-body experience to have history happening to us,” he says.
In keeping with the issue’s title, essays cut a wide swath through time, touching on the history that contributed to the Katrina disaster, examining the immediate fallout of that disaster, and speculating on how it all might shake out.
Essayists take on broad issues such as the politics of poverty, public housing and the “Disneyfication” of the French Quarter, as well as offer observations that deal more intimately with the celebration of Carnival and the proliferation of tattoos in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Along with Powell, members of the Tulane community who contributed to the issue include Richard Campenella, assistant director for environmental analysis at the Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research; Karen Kingsley, professor emerita of architecture; Marline Otte, associate professor of history, Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator of the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane; and Michael G. White, a Tulane alumnus who holds the Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Xavier University of Louisiana.
Clarence Mohr, who co-edited the issue, is a former colleague of Powell’s at Tulane and now chairs the history department at the University of South Alabama.
The Journal of American History is published quarterly by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University–Bloomington. The full text of the articles, as well as interactive maps and media, music, video, topical threads and photographer-narrated slide shows can be seen at the Journal’s website.
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