Freshmen Experience New Orleans Through Southern History

September 13, 2003

Melissa Newman, <i>Hullabaloo</i> contributing writer

In its sixth year, the Lagniappe First-Year Experience program sponsored a tour of two Louisiana plantations Sept. 6 for interested Tulane freshmen. The Laura Plantation was their first stop. Built in 1805, much of what is known about the southern home is derived from the memoirs of Laura Locoul Gore, a former owner. Her detailed accounts of her family, the slaves and the process of growing sugarcane provide a tremendous amount of knowledge concerning Southern life nearly 200 years ago. Laura Plantation was designed with local weather conditions in mind.

The home was elevated in order to catch passing breezes, as well as avoid the occasional flooding of the Mississippi River. Large windows and doors were also utilized to cool the inside of the house. Further down the Mississippi, the group visited Oak Alley, one of the wealthier southern plantations within the state of Louisiana.

Unlike the simple and functional appearance of Laura Plantation, both the exterior and interior of Oak Alley showcase upper-class living standards of the pre-Civil war south. Upon arrival at the home, students noticed the multiple oak trees lining the pathway to the large house. This area's familiarity comes from its use in many movies, one of the more famous being Interview With a Vampire.

These same oaks that inspired Hollywood directors of today prompted Jacques Joseph Roman, original owner of Oak Alley, to establish his plantation almost two centuries ago. The mansion, surrounded by acres of sugarcane fields, reflects the amount of money the land brought in during its years of operation. Columns, large glass windows, mirrors, paintings and delicately carved furniture provide a taste of what high plantation life was like.

Social balls, dinners and other events were held in these highly decorated areas. While much of the tours of both plantations emphasized the lives of the estate's owners, they also indicated the other side of their luxury. Slave quarters on both sights reflected the poor conditions in which the slaves lived, a stark contrast to the main houses.

The history and cultural diversity of New Orleans and its neighboring areas are the main focus of Tulane's First-Year Experience programs. Its many components, such as "Explore New Orleans," Lagniappe Thursdays, TIDES and the reading project, are designed to encourage freshmen to socialize with students and instructors they may not normally meet. The selection process for trips encourages the academic setting within a social experience.

Faculty members submit proposals about excursions in which they are particularly interested. These faculty members then accompany the freshmen and contribute their own expertise on the subject matter.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000