February 23, 2002
Upon taking up his duties as the first American governor of Louisiana, the straitlaced Virginian William C.C. Claiborne realized he was a stranger in a land of baffling inhabitants and infuriating customs. Almost 200 years have passed since Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States, and the contrasts between American and Creole cultures remain just as startling.
Celebrating the upcoming bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (the actual date of the purchase is Dec. 20, 1803), the 49th Tulane Educational Conference, "Purchasing Louisiana," features an ambitious look at New Orleans and Louisiana at the outset of the 19th century. The conference will be held on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 23, in the University Center, and will feature numerous Tulane experts on the Louisiana Purchase era.
Patricia McWhorter Broussard, a senior program coordinator in institutional advancement, has organized the yearly conference since 1997 for Alumni Affairs, and gets a charge out of doing it.
"We have been pleased that the conferences have provided networking opportunities for academics and for people in the community who may have a Tulane connection but are not well acquainted with the faculty and what they're doing," says Broussard. "One of the most interesting things about the conferences is that we get folks who have never met each other, from different disciplines, sitting together at lunch, brainstorming and networking."
The first conference Broussard organized was "Do You Know What It Means to Myth New Orleans" and saluted the 150th anniversaries of both Tulane College and the law school, including professors and alumni of these institutions as speakers.
The conference addressed the issue of truth and fiction in various literary and artistic representations of New Orleans. Broussard attributes the perennial success of the conferences to the fact that they focus on anniversaries of significance to the university community or on subject matter that is in the process of gaining general interest. Broussard cites the 1994 conference, "D-Day Remembered."
The now-familiar topic was fixed upon before organizers were aware of any planning for the National D-Day Museum.
"We filled every seat in the house," says Broussard. "Anybody who saw the scene would have been able to say a D-Day museum will go over well with this crowd!" The 45th educational conference in 1998, "A River Runs Through Us," highlighted the role of the Mississippi River in shaping life in the Crescent City. "We were fortunate enough to happen upon a topic the faculty had already been discussing," says Broussard. "They already had the Mississippi River colloquium and other study groups."
Participants at that conference were at the beginning of discussions concerning the establishment of a Mississippi River museum in New Orleans. That project is now in an advanced planning stage, and proponents hope it will soon become a reality. Other past topics included a look at local culinary history, tied to the anniversary of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women; the retrospective of the life and times of Paul Tulane, linked to the founder's 200th birthday; and "Science, Society and the New Century," which highlighted social and medical issues. An advisory committee helps choose each conference's subject matter.
The committee comprises alumni from the Emeritus Club (who all graduated 50 or more years ago), the Tulane University Women's Association, the New Orleans Tulane alumni club, and past presidents of the Tulane Alumni Association. Inviting an interesting and appropriate keynote speaker is among the most important decisions to be made.
This year's choice seems perfect, as it taps an esteemed descendent of Gov. Claiborne. Corinne Morrison "Lindy" Claiborne Boggs, a 1935 Newcomb alumna, Louisiana congresswoman, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and author of Washington Through a Purple Veil. Boggs' talk is entitled "What Being a Claiborne in 20th-Century Politics Taught Me About the Importance of the Louisiana Purchase."
Other events should prove equally stimulating, as the conference examines the transition period leading up to and just after the Louisiana Purchase. On the table will be discussions about the styles of music and dance in Purchase-era Louisiana, the colony's exotic melange of languages, the region's visual and decorative arts during the colonial and early Federal periods, the evolution of local architectural forms, the status of free blacks and slaves, the geopolitics of the Louisiana Purchase, and early attempts to bring opera and theater to New Orleans. Other lectures concern the development of Louisiana law and the problems faced by new administrators of the new U.S. possession.
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