Tricentennial Reading List With Richard Campanella (Part 2)

Sep 25, 2018

  • 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: Now we come to your books. You're just the master of this field. Talk about the beginning of your explorations and the direction they've taken. Some surprising directions I imagine.

Richard Campanella: In my mind, they're all unified by the essential questions of geography, which is where, why there, and why do we care? A spatial explanation, that is the quest I am on to characterize, map identify and then explain the why behind the where. Most of my books are very explicitly pulled together along that basic inquiry, Geographies of New Orleans, Bienville's Dilemma.

All the ones that are pure geographies but even the ones that deviate from that a bit seemingly like Lincoln in New Orleans. I use the Lincoln character and the happenstance of his two flatboat trips here to understand the whole economic geography of that system of flatboat men that brought resources down from the upcountry to the Crescent City and sent Crescent City resources, capital, cash, currency, citrus, coffee, sugar, back to the upcountry.

When you think of it, Lincoln becomes extraordinary later in life, but at the time, he was just a cog in this economic geographical system. Once he arrives to the city, I used his explorations or the way people explored New Orleans in the late 1820s in 1830s to surmise how the city he would have experienced. It was fundamentally spatial.

Susan: Then you really started with New Orleans Then and Now and that sense of your longtime ability to read the city.

Richard: Almost as if it were a book and you could with a careful eye interpret sometimes seemingly very mundane things like off-plum streets that don't meet up at 90-degree angles but rather 86.35-degree angles. And things at weird angles often tell interesting stories. The way Bayou Road comes into the rear of the French Quarter, it's just off-line. One of my favorites is the old fortification lines at the 100 and 1300 blocks of the French Quarter, the fortification lies are from colonial times.

The forts themselves are long gone and they were flimsy to begin with, but incredibly, their location has burned themselves into the property lines there. If you go on 1300 Royal and look very carefully, or 1300 Dauphine , there are a couple of courtyard walls and houses that are just off-kilter and they line up perfectly with that old fort line. That's what I mean by reading the landscape and cityscape and it might make me exasperating company to be around because whereas most other people will point out beautiful buildings, I’ll point out odd-shaped parking lots.

Susan: One of my very favorite ones is Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day as well as Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before The Storm. but I especially love the latter because of its rich tapestry of our ethnic makeup.

Richard: Ethnic geographies. One of my favorite topics. Humans, of course, do not evenly nor randomly disperse themselves across the cityscape in the formation of residential settlement patterns. They form clusters, they form concentrations, they form enclaves, and there's usually some binding commonality that holds them together. In other cases, there is marginalization and exclusion that pushes certain groups in certain places.

Geographies of New Orleans [:Urban Fabrics Before The Storm] is the biggest single project I’ve ever worked on in my entire career. It took five years. We're right by the UNO Library right now, and a lot of that research I did in the archives here on the fourth floor and I have very fond memories. This is 2000-2005 of just looking out those windows there with all my materials over the quad and Lake Pontchartrain. I submitted the manuscript in July of 2005 and, of course, one month later, all of the geographies of New Orleans were scrambled.