Tracing New Orleans’ Creole History

It’s Mardi Gras week in New Orleans, a time to celebrate the Crescent City’s diverse culture and time-honored traditions. With its unique blending of French, Spanish, Caribbean, Native American and African influences, the city is perceived by many as a place apart.

Despite its image as a foreign land, New Orleans played a vital role as a site for the American struggle for racial equality during the 19th century, according to Shirley Thompson, assistant professor of American Studies.

Thompson’s “Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in New Orleans” (Harvard University Press, 2009) examines how Creoles of color, the French speaking population of African decent, struggled to resist and redefine social categories during a time of transformation.

In her nuanced historical survey of a world defined by color lines, Thompson analyzes the experiences of New Orleans’ “les gens de coleur libre” (free people of color), and how they shaped an understanding of cultural identity and belonging. With a particular focus on racial passing, Thompson explores the social and political outcomes for Creoles of color who either chose to “pass” for white or black.

Tracing New Orleans’ historically unique experience with race, ethnicity, class and politics, Thompson reveals how its people did –and did not- adjust to a multiethnic environment.

Ned Sublette, author of “The World that Made New Orleans,” wrote “…Thompson portrays vividly the predicament of a community that was neither allowed all the privileges of whites nor subjected to the cruelest indignities visited upon blacks, and, accordingly, was trusted by neither. She makes comprehensible the subtleties of caste and language in New Orleans, and provides a new way to see its historic streets.”

What’s on Your Nightstand, Juliet Walker?

History Professor Juliet E.K. Walker knows first-hand the power of a book to shape history.

Earlier this year, the site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by her great-great grandfather Frank McWorter, was named a National Historic Landmark, based on research she published in “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).

In the book, Walker documented the historic significance of McWorter’s life and New Philadelphia, which is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the Civil War.

“The search for the reality of a usable African American historic past, as well as assessments that provide insight on the contemporary black experience often propel my book selection,” Walker says.

“As an historian, a continuous search for understanding the slave experience from the perspective of the slave drives my interest in biographies, which often provide a more incisive analysis and greater insight than general historic assessments.”

Here’s what the scholar had to say about the books currently on her nightstand:

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton, 2008) by Annette Gordon-Reed

The distinguished history professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello” traces the origins of the Hemings, a slave family from 17th-century Virginia, to their sale after the death of their owner, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson. Gordon-Reed also describes the 38-year liaison between Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, and her seven children. In part, DNA tests corroborate paternity, previously established by the historical record.

An exciting read and a comprehensive brilliantly researched book that moves the enslaved to the forefront of their lives and experiences, as opposed to being relegated as appendages of history.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom” (Atria, 2009) by John Baker

Baker’s expansive and informative “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” reviews the lives of the author’s enslaved ancestors and some 274 other African Americans who were also enslaved over time on the nation’s largest tobacco plantation. Located near Nashville, Tenn., the plantation was established by a distant relative of the first American President.

Unlike Alex Haley’s path-breaking “Roots,” based on his family’s oral history, Baker’s 30 years of research in the reconstruction of this community of slaves was based not only on oral history interviews from descendants of both the enslaved and the enslaver, but also on documents including private papers and public records. in addition to assessments from DNA tests results.

The Militant South, 1800-1861” (University of Illinois Press, 2002) by John Hope Franklin

While both Gordon-Reed and Baker’s books move us away from the general amorphous reconstruction of slave life, we must be reminded of the historical reality of the institution in John Hope Franklin’s “The Militant South,” in which he describes the extent to which the enslaved were oppressed in a section of the United States which he described as a “virtual armed camp.”

With American army bases located in the South given constitutional sanction to put down slave rebellions, in addition to state militias, county patrols and municipal police, as well as armed white citizens who could suppress slave intransigence with impunity, “The Militant South” underscores the extent to which there were not too many people of African descent who did not offer challenges to their enslavement.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad, 2008) by Paula Giddings

The violence of African American oppression did not end with the Civil War as African American Professor Giddings reminds us in her highly acclaimed biography “Ida, a Sword Among Lions.”

Ida B. Wells is an iconic historic figure, whose life weaves in and out of black activism at the turn of the 20th century. One of America’s first woman investigative journalists, Giddings’ brilliant assessment provides another dimension of the diversity of historic responses of African American women in their search for African American freedom and equality.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” (Doubleday, 2009) by Gwen Ifill

By the turn of the 21st century, African American women in journalism had moved into the media mainstream where their assessments now include broad issues in American life, including the recently published “The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill, a nationally known newspaper and broadcast journalist. In the book, Ifill’s focus is on a new generation of black political leaders.

While only a 19-page chapter focuses on President Barack Obama, 179 of the book’s 266 pages include information on the new president, as he exemplified various aspects of the new generation of post-Civil Rights era African-American politicians. Based primarily on interviews, the book’s contribution is its synthesis of this new generation and the strategies developed as they skillfully negotiate the nation’s new political arena.

Still, waiting to be read are “A Mercy” (2008), by Toni Morrison, a novel set in the 17th century on the experience of women of various races and class on a Maryland plantation, as well as James Patterson’s novel “Cross County” (2008), where the protagonist is a black psychologist and detective.

Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History at the university. Her other books include “The History of Black Business in America” and “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” She currently is writing a book about Oprah Winfrey, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.

What's on Your Nightstand, Juliet Walker?

History Professor Juliet E.K. Walker knows first-hand the power of a book to shape history.

Earlier this year, the site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by her great-great grandfather Frank McWorter, was named a National Historic Landmark, based on research she published in “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).

In the book, Walker documented the historic significance of McWorter’s life and New Philadelphia, which is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the Civil War.

“The search for the reality of a usable African American historic past, as well as assessments that provide insight on the contemporary black experience often propel my book selection,” Walker says.

“As an historian, a continuous search for understanding the slave experience from the perspective of the slave drives my interest in biographies, which often provide a more incisive analysis and greater insight than general historic assessments.”

Here’s what the scholar had to say about the books currently on her nightstand:

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton, 2008) by Annette Gordon-Reed

The distinguished history professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello” traces the origins of the Hemings, a slave family from 17th-century Virginia, to their sale after the death of their owner, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson. Gordon-Reed also describes the 38-year liaison between Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, and her seven children. In part, DNA tests corroborate paternity, previously established by the historical record.

An exciting read and a comprehensive brilliantly researched book that moves the enslaved to the forefront of their lives and experiences, as opposed to being relegated as appendages of history.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom” (Atria, 2009) by John Baker

Baker’s expansive and informative “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” reviews the lives of the author’s enslaved ancestors and some 274 other African Americans who were also enslaved over time on the nation’s largest tobacco plantation. Located near Nashville, Tenn., the plantation was established by a distant relative of the first American President.

Unlike Alex Haley’s path-breaking “Roots,” based on his family’s oral history, Baker’s 30 years of research in the reconstruction of this community of slaves was based not only on oral history interviews from descendants of both the enslaved and the enslaver, but also on documents including private papers and public records. in addition to assessments from DNA tests results.

The Militant South, 1800-1861” (University of Illinois Press, 2002) by John Hope Franklin

While both Gordon-Reed and Baker’s books move us away from the general amorphous reconstruction of slave life, we must be reminded of the historical reality of the institution in John Hope Franklin’s “The Militant South,” in which he describes the extent to which the enslaved were oppressed in a section of the United States which he described as a “virtual armed camp.”

With American army bases located in the South given constitutional sanction to put down slave rebellions, in addition to state militias, county patrols and municipal police, as well as armed white citizens who could suppress slave intransigence with impunity, “The Militant South” underscores the extent to which there were not too many people of African descent who did not offer challenges to their enslavement.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad, 2008) by Paula Giddings

The violence of African American oppression did not end with the Civil War as African American Professor Giddings reminds us in her highly acclaimed biography “Ida, a Sword Among Lions.”

Ida B. Wells is an iconic historic figure, whose life weaves in and out of black activism at the turn of the 20th century. One of America’s first woman investigative journalists, Giddings’ brilliant assessment provides another dimension of the diversity of historic responses of African American women in their search for African American freedom and equality.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” (Doubleday, 2009) by Gwen Ifill

By the turn of the 21st century, African American women in journalism had moved into the media mainstream where their assessments now include broad issues in American life, including the recently published “The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill, a nationally known newspaper and broadcast journalist. In the book, Ifill’s focus is on a new generation of black political leaders.

While only a 19-page chapter focuses on President Barack Obama, 179 of the book’s 266 pages include information on the new president, as he exemplified various aspects of the new generation of post-Civil Rights era African-American politicians. Based primarily on interviews, the book’s contribution is its synthesis of this new generation and the strategies developed as they skillfully negotiate the nation’s new political arena.

Still, waiting to be read are “A Mercy” (2008), by Toni Morrison, a novel set in the 17th century on the experience of women of various races and class on a Maryland plantation, as well as James Patterson’s novel “Cross County” (2008), where the protagonist is a black psychologist and detective.

Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History at the university. Her other books include “The History of Black Business in America” and “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” She currently is writing a book about Oprah Winfrey, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.

Symposium Celebrates Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”

The Department of Philosophy will host the symposium “Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: Celebrating the Best Within Us,” from 4 to 6:30 p.m., March 4. Presenters will offer perspectives on the Russian-born philosopher’s magnum opus, both as philosophy and literature.

Each session will include a question-and-answer period, and a reception with the speakers will be held immediately afterward. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers and topics include:

4 p.m. “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life” by Jeff Britting, associate producer of the Academy Award nominated-documentary film, “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life;”

4:15 p.m. “The Benevolent Universe Premise in Atlas Shrugged” by Allan Gotthelf, visiting professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh;

5 p.m. “John Galt as the Hero of Atlas Shrugged: Leader and Lover” by Shoshana Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech;

5:45 p.m. “The Appeal of Atlas Shrugged to Young People” by Onkar Ghate, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

A joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that “Atlas Shrugged” is the second most influential book for Americans today, after the Bible.

The symposium is sponsored by the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism and Anthem Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism, both held by Professor Tara Smith. Smith is the author of “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist” (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Learn more about the symposium.

Symposium Celebrates Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"

The Department of Philosophy will host the symposium “Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: Celebrating the Best Within Us,” from 4 to 6:30 p.m., March 4. Presenters will offer perspectives on the Russian-born philosopher’s magnum opus, both as philosophy and literature.

Each session will include a question-and-answer period, and a reception with the speakers will be held immediately afterward. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers and topics include:

4 p.m. “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life” by Jeff Britting, associate producer of the Academy Award nominated-documentary film, “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life;”

4:15 p.m. “The Benevolent Universe Premise in Atlas Shrugged” by Allan Gotthelf, visiting professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh;

5 p.m. “John Galt as the Hero of Atlas Shrugged: Leader and Lover” by Shoshana Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech;

5:45 p.m. “The Appeal of Atlas Shrugged to Young People” by Onkar Ghate, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

A joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that “Atlas Shrugged” is the second most influential book for Americans today, after the Bible.

The symposium is sponsored by the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism and Anthem Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism, both held by Professor Tara Smith. Smith is the author of “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist” (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Learn more about the symposium.

Mayor Picks “The Septembers of Shiraz” for Book Club

Mayor Will Wynn has chosen “The Septembers of Shiraz” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Dalia Sofer for the 2009 Mayor’s Book Club. The club is cosponsored by the Austin Public Library and the Humanities Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

Sofer’s debut novel is based on her childhood in Iran during the revolution and flight from the country after her father was imprisoned. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2008.

The Humanities Institute invites all of Austin and the campus community to read the book in February and March, and then participate in special events in April, culminating in a reading with the author at 6:30 p.m., April 24 at City Hall.

Stay tuned for more details about book discussions and other special book club events scheduled for April.

Mayor Picks "The Septembers of Shiraz" for Book Club

Mayor Will Wynn has chosen “The Septembers of Shiraz” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Dalia Sofer for the 2009 Mayor’s Book Club. The club is cosponsored by the Austin Public Library and the Humanities Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

Sofer’s debut novel is based on her childhood in Iran during the revolution and flight from the country after her father was imprisoned. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2008.

The Humanities Institute invites all of Austin and the campus community to read the book in February and March, and then participate in special events in April, culminating in a reading with the author at 6:30 p.m., April 24 at City Hall.

Stay tuned for more details about book discussions and other special book club events scheduled for April.

Visualizing Russia’s Kaleidoscopic History

Geographically, Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than ten million square miles and spanning 11 time zones. With its immense size and varied landscapes it’s a nation known not only by its unique beauty, but also for its storied history.

Joan Neuberger, professor of history, takes readers on a journey through Russian history–from the ancient Kiev period (860-1240) to contemporary post-soviet society (1991-present)–in “Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture” (Yale University Press, 2008).

The book, edited by Neuberger and Valerie Kivelson, professor of history at the University of Michigan, covers the entire sweep of Russian history. Through a tapestry of more than 100 visual resources, including icon paintings, popular prints, news and art photographs, folk art, films and advertisements, the book provides a comprehensive account of Russian people and their culture.

Filled with essays from a wide range of renowned scholars, the mixed-media book illuminates the complexities of how Russians visually represented themselves through various forms of images, such as paintings, portraits and wartime posters, and how they used these images to exert or overturn social and political power.

Neuberger is the author of “Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900-1914” and “Ivan the Terrible: The Film Companion.” She co-authored “Europe and the Making of Modernity, 1815-1914” and co-edited “Imitations of Life: Two Centuries of Melodrama in Russia.”

Learn more about the sights and sounds of Russia at the university’s annual Russia Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. , Feb. 21. The event, sponsored by the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, offers “immersion experience” in Russia’s culture, language, traditions and history. Local area high schools, as well as schools from other Texas cities are invited to participate. All presentations are conducted by volunteer faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students.

Amazing Rare Maps in the Benson Collection

In 1577, Spain’s King Phillip II ordered a comprehensive survey of the New World. Questionnaires sent to Spain’s territories in the Americas requested information about population, languages, terrain and vegetation.

Of the more than 200 hand-drawn responses, called the relaciones geográficas, one-fifth reside in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin. The relaciones geográficas are just a few of the many priceless artifacts acquired by the library since its establishment in 1926.

Today, the Benson Collection is the largest university library of Latin American materials in North America, attracting scholars and visitors from around the world and providing essential support to the research and teaching of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

The collection’s curators acquire and provide access to materials on Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Hispanic presence in the United States.

The delicate condition of the centuries-old maps means they are not publicly displayed, but the helpful staff of the Benson library will show them to interested visitors. Just head to the rare books section and ask to see the relaciones geográficas.

Several images of the maps are also available online.

Burnt Orange Britannia

British studies scholars from around the globe will converge on campus Feb. 20-21 for the 2009 British Scholar Annual Conference to be held at the Harry Ransom Center.

Wm. Roger Louis, professor of history and director of the university’s British Studies Program was instrumental in bringing the conference to the university.

A renowned scholar of British history, Louis is the author or editor or more than 30 books on the history, literature and politics of the British Empire. The latest is “Burnt Orange Britannia” (I.B. Tauris, 2006), a collection of autobiographical essays by top historians and scholars of the British experience.

Several UT professors will present papers at the conference, and Linda Colley, professor of history at Princeton University, will give the keynote address. The New York Times named her book “The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh” (Random House) one of the “Ten Best Books of the Year” for 2007.

Learn more about the conference and download a complete schedule of events.