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Tricentennial Reading List With Richard Campanella (Part 1)


This week on the Tricentennial Reading List - Susan Larson continues her look at 300 great New Orleans books with geographer and author Richard Campanella, as they talk about books on New Orleans geography.

  • Charting Louisiana: 500 Years of Maps edited by Alfred E. Lemmon, John T. Magill, and Jason Wiese; consulting editor, John R. Hébert
  • Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker 
  • New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape by Peirce F. Lewis
  • An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature, by Craig E. Colten
  • New Orleans Then and Now, by Richard Campanella 
  • Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day, by Richard Campanella
  • Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, by Richard Campanella
  • Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans, by Richard Campanella


Susan Larson: If New Orleans had a geographer in chief, it would certainly be Richard Campanella who is a professor of practice in the Tulane University School of Architecture. He's taught us to read the New Orleans Landscape and such books as New Orleans Then and Now, Time and Place in New Orleans, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabric Before the Storm, Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans, Lincoln in New Orleans, Bourbon Street a History, and Cityscapes of New Orleans. Richard, welcome.

Richard Campanella: Thank you so much.

Susan: Thanks for sharing your expertise here. Some of the books that appeal to me are books like Charting Louisiana: Five Hundred Years of Maps from The Historic New Orleans Collection. What do you think of that book?

Richard: It's fantastic, it's a great archive of cartography, but I want to emphasize that cartography is a tool of geography. Geography is spatial analysis. It's understanding the spatial dimensions of our city. This entails the underlying physical environment, urbanization, the formation of infrastructure in neighborhoods and probably most importantly, human geographiess how we've dispersed ourselves across the landscape.


Susan: Another thing that we like to talk about when we talk about geography is the Atlas. We have one of the most unusual atlases to call on in our library and that is Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas which was edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker.

Richard: This is a concept that Rebecca Solnit developed first in San Francisco and then replicated in New Orleans and then did one final volume for New York City. As I understand it, she's calling it those three coastal cities and of course, this nation does have three coasts. It's a creative take on it, it's a little bit esoteric notion of geography and artistic, but it all works well and it's all based on the fundamental spatial aspects of the city and region.

Susan: Let's talk about an early geography book that inspired you by Peirce Lewis.

Richard: Pierce Lewis, Penn State geographer, born in the 1920s came down here in 1973 and in a remarkably short amount of time did his research, interviewed the right people, and brought his kind of geographical lens to the city and produced this remarkable; really a monograph it's not even a full-length book that came out in 1976 called New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape. Then he moved on to other projects and this is before the internet. Unbeknownst to him, over the next 30 or 40 years, that book became kind of an underground cult classic here. A colleague of mine, Mark Tullos, who's a local bibliophile contacted Peirce in the late '90s or early 2000s and emailed him and told him. This was news to him--


So inspired, Peirce updated it and we came down here in 2001. I had the pleasure of taking him around town. It was a really a great moment because he's kind of one of my mentors even though I hadn't met him up until that point. He updated the volume, I believe it came out in 2003 or 2004, under the same title, but now is a full-length hardcover book. I think Peirce deserves credit, who's recently deceased by the way. He passed away a few months ago, d eserves credit, even though we've had previous books about the geography of New Orleans, they weren't couched specifically using that word geography. Geography played more of a background, it undergirded the forthcoming description in historical nouns, but the world fundamental geographies.

Peirce's book between the 1970s release and the re-release kind of set the stage for that current generation of honest to goodness geographies about the city.

Susan: We've been talking with Richard Campanella about books about New Orleans geography for the Tricentennial Reading List. The Reading Life Tricentennial Reading List is sponsored by the Helis Foundation, the John Burton Harter Trust, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. For the evergrowing Tricentennial Reading List and other episodes, check out

The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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