Louisiana:Apprehending a Complex Web of Vernacular Regional Geography
North America is covered by a multi-scalar patchwork of vernacular regions. These regions can be geographically large enough to cover many states (The Midwest or the South) and small enough to be considered micro-vernacular regions, encompassing no more than the neighborhoods of a city. In a state the size of Louisiana, vernacular regions tend to be medium-sized and familiar only to people living in clusters of populations around the state. This study explores the patchwork regional geography of Louisiana using business naming as a proxy for popular knowledge of vernacular regions in the state and utilizes GIS to map those regions.
América del Norte está cubierta por un mosaico multiescalar de regiones vernáculas. Estas regiones pueden ser geográficamente suficientemente grandes como para cubrir muchos estados (El Medio Oeste o el Sur) y lo suficientemente pequeñas para ser consideradas micro-regiones vernáculas, abarcando no más que los barrios de una ciudad. En un estado del tamaño de Louisiana, las regiones vernáculas tienden a ser de tamaño mediano y familiar sólo para personas que viven en grupos de poblaciones alrededor del estado. Este estudio explora el mosaico de la geografía regional de Louisiana utilizando la forma de nombrar establecimientos comerciales como forma de conocimiento popular de las regiones vernáculas en el estado y utiliza SIG para cartografiar las regiones.
Cultural Geography, Cultural Region, GIS, Louisiana, Vernacular Region
Geografía Cultural, Región Cultural, SIG, Louisiana, Región Vernácula
The “Regions of Louisiana” outlined by the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism (CRT) generalize the state into five regions. The only explanation that the CRT gives is that they represent areas of hunting and fishing opportunities, historical linkages, or some general cultural category such as “Cajun” (CRT 2012). In the absence of previous studies of vernacular regions in Louisiana (with the exception of Fred Kniffen’s (1965) study of regions of housing types), how accurately does the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism’s choice for regional names and boundaries reflect the many possible manifestations of vernacular regions in the state? This research will compare the CRT regions to the patchwork of vernacular regions across the state and demonstrate the multi-scalar and web-like (Lamme and Oldakowski 2007) nature of vernacular regions in Louisiana. [End Page 55]
Terry Jordan provided us with the definition of a vernacular region that even Wilbur Zelinsky (1980) felt needed no revision:
Perceptual or vernacular regions are those perceived to exist by the inhabitants and other members of the population at large. They exist as part of popular or folk culture. Rather than being the intellectual creation of the professional geographer, the vernacular region is the product of the spatial perception of average people. Rather than being based on carefully chosen, quantifiable criteria, such regions are composites of the mental maps of the population.
Past studies of vernacular regions have applied a variety of methods, including surveys in which people are asked what terms they use to refer to different regions of a state (Jordan 1978; Lamme and Oldakowski 1982, 2007) and map exploration in which the spatial distributions of business names become a proxy for surveys to determine the locations and boundaries of vernacular regions (Reed 1976; Reed et al. 1990; Colten 1997; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009).
This research applies the method of using business names as a proxy for collective knowledge of the boundaries of vernacular regions (Reed 1976; Reed et al. 1990; Colten 1997; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009) and demonstrates that vernacular regions are multi-scalar, forming a web of regions that are interconnected not just across a given area, but up and down the scales of geographic space (Lamme and Oldakowski 2007). The result is a new view of the vernacular regional geography of Louisiana that could provide new perspective for government, as well as public and private enterprises, to reach out and interact with different groups of people in different areas of the state. With a list of business names in Louisiana, this research utilizes the proven methodology (Reed 1976; Reed et al. 1990; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009) to map clusters of business names that reference vernacular regional terms in their names.
Research such as this can be situated in place studies, specifically in the concept of place attachment (Altman and Low 1992; Low 1992), and its subtype of narrative processes such as place naming. Simply naming a place identifies that there is an attachment to place (Low 1992). The results of this paper demonstrate the patchwork of place attachment in Louisiana through the existence of vernacular regions. The vernacular regional landscape of the state forms a narrative of place attachment as told by, in the instance of this research, the distribution of businesses that identify with different regions and different types of regions across the state.
Studying Perceptual and Vernacular Regions
As part of a study of perceptual and vernacular regions in Texas, researchers used surveys of residents and college students to supply names of such regions which were then mapped based on the county the respondent lived in (Jordan 1978). Donald Meinig used cardinal directions and physical geography to describe what he referred to as culture areas of the state (Meinig 1969). Ary Lamme and Ray Oldakowski give the same treatment to [End Page 56] Florida’s vernacular regions while at the same time considering cultural and social attitudes as they differ by region across the state (Lamme and Oldakowski 1982, 2007). These certainly allow for an understanding of not just common perceptions of regions, but also where their boundaries are perceived to be located using information supplied by those who would know or perceive those regions best, e.g. residents of those regions.
John Shelton Reed used business names to identify the boundaries of the American South and of Dixie (Reed 1976). These two regions of the U.S. cover approximately the same geographic area but have distinctive connotations. Reed understood that both regions have characteristics people use to distinguish between them, but instead of relying on perceptions of average people responding to a survey, Reed chose to map locations and clusters of businesses in the U.S. that use the terms South or Southern, and Dixie, normalizing these clusters with businesses that used the terms “American” or “America.”
The basic principle for utilizing business names to delineate these vernacular regions was that local residents would be prone to use such descriptive terms as, “Southern,” in the names of their businesses as a form of voluntary association with that region (Reed 1976). In this way, Reed demonstrated that this method of mapping business names can serve as a proxy for the perceptions of average people who reside in the region. The findings of Reed’s (1976) study were replicated again in 1990 (Reed et al.) and in 2009 (Ambinakudige) and demonstrated shifting and contracting boundaries of the South and Dixie over several decades. The subsequent studies benefited from improved mapping and analytical tools such as GIS which allows for more objective analysis in mapping perceptual regions (Meinig 1969; Jordan 1978; Lamme and Oldakowski 1982, 2007). This research uses academic sources and websites of private, public, and non-profit sources to establish a list of terms to use. The terms will then be used to search an online businesses telephone and address directory—ReferenceUSA—to collect the locations of those businesses that can be geocoded onto a map of Louisiana.
There are numerous place names in Louisiana that have physiographic, historical, economic, or promotional terms that also refer to vernacular regions of the state. To date, the regional boundaries promoted by the CRT have not been established using any systematic geographical methods. Nevertheless, the CRT offers five major regions for the state (Figure 1), each with its own brief descriptive narrative. They include Sportsmen’s Paradise, the Crossroads, Plantation Country, the Greater New Orleans Area, and a region formerly referred to as Cajun Country that, though not described on the CRT website, is still delineated on some CRT maps (CRT 2012).
The CRT describes Sportsman’s Paradise as “Louisiana’s heritage of hands-on, outdoor recreation [as] a way of life in its northern parishes,” (CRT 2012). Some of the activities that the CRT promotes are exploring a national forest, Civil War battlefields, a historic Native American archaeological site, and partaking in local [End Page 57] culture such as rodeos, barbecue with some Texas culture mixed into it, and Mardi Gras parades. To the south, the Crossroads region is referred to as a region where the, “traditionally Cajun and Creole Catholic south Louisiana dissolves into the traditionally Anglo-American Protestant north Louisiana,” (CRT 2012). Physically, the region is also a transition zone from the state’s piney hill country and farms to wetlands. The history of the region is marked by a mixture of French, Spanish, African, Native American and Anglo-American influences.
Across the southern area of the state, Cajun Country is the region settled by Acadians from Canada who, “adapted well to the strange environment of south Louisiana, learning to fish and trap from Native Americans already residing in the swamps,” and eventually came to be known as Cajuns. The CRT promotes the region’s food, music, and unique history, and the large Atchafalaya River Basin swamp. The Plantation Country region displays a mixture of Anglo and slave heritage expressed through the historic plantation architecture and a lavish lifestyle made possible by a large concentration of millionaires during the early 1800’s. Finally, the southeast corner of the state is called the Greater New Orleans Area (CRT 2012). This area contains the most well-known metropolitan area of the state, which is best known for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations and [End Page 58] strong French, Spanish, and Caribbean influences.
Methods, Data, and Analysis
This research employs the same method of data collection as previous vernacular region studies (Reed 1976; Reed et al. 1990; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009). Using the online business telephone directory, Reference-USA (2012), I searched for businesses in the state that use specific identifiers, such as cardinal directions or terms that are culturally or historically relevant to Louisiana. Cardinal directions are commonly used in referencing vernacular regions, as can be seen at the national scale in the U.S. (Garreau 1981; Zelinsky 1992) and at state levels, such as previously mentioned studies based in Texas (Meinig 1969; Jordan 1978) and Florida (Lamme and Oldakowski 1982, 2007). Typically, primary (North, East, South, and West) and secondary (Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest) cardinal directions are used, as well as the term, central. In Louisiana, in addition to the term central, a neologism, CenLa is also used by combining central and the U.S. postal abbreviation for Louisiana.
Selecting cardinal directions, however, presents two potential problems. First, there are many businesses in Louisiana that use, North, South, East, or West and the use of these terms is not limited to the scale of the state just as they are not limited to the scale of the nation. For example, smaller political units such as parishes, cities, and towns also have businesses that use cardinal direction terms to indicate where they are located within the city or parish (McEwen 2007). This would complicate an analysis of the spatial distribution of businesses across the state by misrepresenting some regions compared to others. The second potential problem with using cardinal directions has to do specifically with the term Southeast. Because Louisiana is located in the Southeastern U.S., many businesses use this term more than any other in order to identify with the larger, multi-state region. Table 1 outlines the types of and terms for the different regions.
Four of the cultural or historical regions already covered are used by the CRT. The additional cultural/historic region terms listed in Table 1 have been selected from previous studies and the author’s personal knowledge of local culture in the state. The Acadian and German Coasts (Newton 1972; Hebert 2010) are not actually on the coast of Louisiana as their names suggest. Instead, they are each sites of historic settlement along the Mississippi River above New Orleans. Acadiana is a term that refers to a large region of the state known as French Louisiana (Zelinsky 1992) and is popularly used by people across the state (Bernard 2003). The people who migrated to the region arrived from French Canada in the eighteenth century and people who live in the region today are most often referred to as Cajun, a term sometimes confused with the distinct Creole identity (CRT 2012). Acadiana extends from the Texas-Louisiana border, along the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River and New Orleans where the Florida Parishes begin. The Florida Parishes are those east of the Mississippi River and north of Lake Pontchartrain and were formerly part of Spanish Florida (Gannon 1996).
Creole and Mardi Gras are also important terms in Louisiana history and [End Page 59] culture. Mardi Gras is a term associated with New Orleans and will serve to represent the Greater New Orleans region. Creole is a term that refers to people who were born in the New World to parents who came from the Old World and eventually also referred to slaves and free slaves of color from the area that became south Louisiana and from the Caribbean.
Physiographic regions are derived from major and minor environmental regions of the state. The Gulf Coast is the largest region and it provides a cultural and economic link to other parts of the U.S. and the world (McEwen 2011). The Sabine River forms the western border with Texas and the Red River runs diagonal from the northwest corner to the south central area where it becomes a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Atchafalaya River is part of a large swampy basin in the south central area of the state. The Kisatchie and Nacogdoches Wolds are hilly regions in the southwest. Delta refers to the Mississippi Delta, a physical region to the east that is formed by the shared floodplain [End Page 60] of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers. The Mississippi River is left out because use of the term would proliferate the east side of the state and the area from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, thus muddying the boundaries of potentially lesser regions.
Methods: Mapping Vernacular Regions
Using the online business telephone and address directory, ReferenceUSA, I searched for businesses using all of the terms in Table 1. Approximately 2,600 businesses remained after eliminating duplicate addresses and other anomalies, such as businesses in other states or those that did not have the search terms in their name. I collected four sets of businesses based on the physiographic, directional, cultural, and economic/promotional terms. The result is a list of about 2,500 of the 2,600 businesses whose locations were successfully plotted with high levels of accuracy. Achieving a rate of over 95 percent of accurately mapped businesses is an improvement over past studies just several years ago where the best that might have been expected would be 70 percent–80 percent of addresses successfully located.
For businesses with directional terms such as Southeast or Southwest, where the name implied a regional affiliation with the Southwestern or Southeastern U.S., only those that had any variation of Louisiana were kept. I assumed that those business’s names implied that they served a directional region of a portion of the state. This also sought to account for businesses that might have a name such as “Southwestern Shreveport” or “Northwest Sabine Parish,” whose names implied that their service areas are local rather than regional.
Other search results included businesses that had more than one term from each group such as, “Creole-Cajun Café,” or that had terms from two different groups such as, “Southeast Louisiana Mardi Gras Warehouse.” Having multiple labels does not present a problem and actually demonstrates the multi-scalar and web-like nature (Lamme and Oldakowski 2007) of vernacular regional geography. As the maps in the next section will demonstrate, the extent of vernacular regions in Louisiana not only overlap, but intersect and demonstrate either a mixing of identities and regional affiliations or a conflation of identities such as Creole-Cajun.
After collecting all relevant businesses, I geocoded the addresses using an address locator service in ArcMap. Unlike earlier studies (Reed 1976; Jordan 1978; Reed, et al. 1990; Colten 1997; Ambinakudige 2009) that located businesses or other data to the county level, geocoding addresses allows researchers to be much more precise, thus transcending arbitrary geographical units such as counties and ZIP codes. Although it is easy to let a computer program place points on a map, it is more complicated to determine how the distribution, density, and overlapping nature of these points should be interpreted. Past studies have generally placed borders where it is reasonable to assume they lie based on how well they contain the data mapped or the general characteristics of the regions in question. For very large regions such as the South or Midwest, the boundaries are understood to be not necessarily ill defined, but open to opinion and speculation (Zelinsky 1980, 1992; Garreau 1981).
Studying the South and Dixie, Reed used a “rough mapping” (1976, 926) of [End Page 61] the isolines of ratios between South or Dixie and American businesses to achieve a similar result. He referred to the boundary lines as those that seemed, “perhaps the best single choice for a boundary line, if a single one had to be chosen” (Reed et al. 1990, 227). Ambinakudige (2009) replicated Reed’s studies of the boundaries of the South using the similar method of aggregating businesses within ZIP codes. Although his methods of calculating the incidence of Southern businesses as a ratio of American businesses use mathematical equations, his method of delineating the South remains one of simply suggesting a boundary that appears to be the best fit (Ambinakudige 2009). Utilizing the latest in desktop geocoding and mapping technology, McEwen (2007) mapped much smaller, micro-vernacular regions (Zelinsky 1992) in a southern city. Drawing roughly educated/guesti-mated borders of micro-vernacular regions yielded common-sense boundaries between different popularly recognized areas of the city. This research uses the time-trusted method of eyeballing the best fit line that reasonably captures the geography of vernacular regions. Short of ground truthing the boundaries, this has been shown to be a reliable method to understanding the territory of vernacular regions (Reed 1976; Jordan 1978; Reed et al. 1990; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009).
Results: Regional Businesses
Many of the terms that were searched for are based on past research that established the regions in Louisiana (Zelinsky 1992; McEwen 2011) or were located on landmark maps of the state from Milton Newton’s Atlas of Louisiana (1972). Terms with no source are derived from personal observations of Louisiana culture and have been used to aid in delineating vernacular regions of the state.
Table 1 provides the number of businesses that were identified, plotted, and later used to determine regional boundaries based on their distribution. Some of the following maps show the location of most of the businesses that will give an idea of the density of the businesses as well within each region. Businesses that reference physiographic regions account for 22 percent of the total. Most use Gulf Coast in their name, which should be no surprise considering how important the coast is to the state. Businesses using Red River and Sabine River were also prominent, but their numbers in terms of the region they represent is somewhat misleading given that there is a parish named for almost every major river in the state. Atchafalaya, for example, representing the river, the basin, and the wetlands accounted for only 31 businesses out of all the physiographic regions with Kisatchie Wold having only six businesses and none for the Nacogdoches Wold.
Culture regions garner more recognition or identification than any other region type and represent over half of the businesses collected. Furthermore, businesses identifying with Acadiana and Cajun account for 46 percent of all businesses with only 56 and 27 identifying with Creole or Mardi Gras, respectively. This lends some credibility to one of the CRT regions: Cajun Country. It is not surprising that Acadiana and Cajun are used to reference so many businesses considering the history of the Acadian and Cajun people in Louisiana. [End Page 62]
The smallest percent of businesses, 6.5 percent, were in economic and promotional regions of the state as identified by the Louisiana CRT (Figure 1). This is a strong indication that the state CRT has either not considered the importance and diversity of other regions or that it is aware of other important regions but has chosen to simplify how the state is presented to potential visitors to the state. Only one of the CRT regions promoted by the state coincides with any of the cultural and physiographic regions or directional regions. Even though Cajun Country is appropriately delineated by the state’s CRT (compare Figures 1 and 3), there are only 17 businesses that use this term, all of which were also included in the number of Cajun businesses of the Cajun region.
Last among the region types, directional regions are perhaps the most easily identified and least contestable because terms like north, south, east, and west, are generally objective (Reed 1976; Garreau 1981; Zelinsky 1992). These businesses make up 21.5 percent of all businesses collected with the terms seemingly evenly distributed according to the total geographic area the regions encompass (Figure 2). Apart from that, there is little of note about these businesses and the map of directional region boundaries is fairly straightforward.
The following maps and their regions are not intended to be completely [End Page 63] exhaustive of every single region that exists in the state. But the maps do provide a more detailed and representative picture of Louisiana’s vernacular regions than the five-region view of the CRT (2012). As in previous studies (Reed 1976; Reed et al. 1990; Ambinakudige 2009; McEwen 2011), the region boundaries that I provide are hand-drawn based on the distribution of the businesses and may not necessarily reflect how any individual Louisianan may view these regions. That, of course, is the nature of vernacular regions (Reed 1976; Jordan 1978; Zelinsky 1980, 1992; Reed et al. 1990).
Results: Louisiana’s Web of Regions
The following series of maps demonstrates that Louisiana regions overlap and intersect each other like a spider web (Lamme and Oldakowski 2007). Each map presents a different perspective: promotional, cultural, physiographical, or directional.
Louisiana CRT Regions
Figure 1 shows the regions promoted by the Louisiana CRT (2012). Their boundaries correspond to parish boundaries, which breaks what is perhaps the cardinal rule of vernacular regions in that they need not necessarily correspond to political boundaries (Reed 1976; Zelinsky 1980; Reed et al. 1990; Lamme and Oldakowski 2007). The regional boundaries portrayed on this map have very little to do with the actual regional geography of the state, which is something that the Louisiana CRT might consider if it is interested in more accurately promoting the cultural and physiographical diversity of the state. Note that Cajun Country and New Orleans are the only two regions that share much in common with the regions presented in this research.
Five directional regions of Louisiana are easily distinguished from each other just from a quick glance at the distribution of businesses that identify with each (Figure 2). The two northern regions are relatively small compared to the central and southern regions. Four of these regions shown in Figure 2 correspond to other types of regions seen in the other maps. The northwest corresponds to the Ark-La-Tex region in figure four and also includes parts of two physiographic regions: the Red and Sabine River regions (Figure 5). CenLa and central Louisiana businesses correspond to the Crossroads region on the map of CRT regions. Likewise, the southwest corresponds to Cajun Country and the southeast covers the same area as the Mardi Gras region in figure three and the Greater New Orleans region in figure one.
Although the areas of Louisiana that are not shown as part of the five directional regions may belong to one of those regions, Figure 2 leaves that space as room for local opinion. However, one larger blank space was left in the Baton Rouge area that is claimed by businesses that identify with the southwest and southeast and, to a lesser degree, central Louisiana. Being the capital of the state, it is, perhaps, apropos that the Baton Rouge area not necessarily be recognized as favoring one directional region of the state over another, yet it is still clearly part of south Louisiana. [End Page 64]
Culture and Historical Regions
There are businesses that use the term “Cajun” across the state. Many of those businesses, however, are in south Louisiana and cover about the same area as Aca-diana (Figure 3). The same is not true for Acadiana businesses. This indicates that while Cajun may be a more popular term to use as a synonym for Acadiana and south Louisiana, Acadiana is a region that is specifically part of south Louisiana and not north or even central Louisiana (Figure 3). The one CRT region that explicitly recognizes Acadian/Cajun heritage is Cajun Country (Figure 1) though only seventeen of the mapped businesses actually use the term. Though the distribution of these businesses is not as dense as Cajun or Aca-diana businesses, all but one of the Cajun Country businesses lies within the Cajun/Acadiana culture region. The Creole region is not as large as the previous two and the term is less prominent among businesses (only 56), thus the influence of the Creole culture is diminished next to Cajun and Acadiana (1,177 businesses together). Again, this suggests some negative connotation with the term Creole or simply that the idea suggested by the term does not carry the same weight as the others.
Although the Mardi Gras region does not indicate a specific group of people as Cajun and Creole do, it represents the [End Page 65] culture of the New Orleans area (McEwen 2011) and is easily one of the most well-known aspects of the city. Most of the 37 businesses using Mardi Gras are located in the Greater New Orleans area. The reason Mardi Gras represents a culture region rather than a promotional region is because the Mardi Gras celebration represents the heritage of the European colonizers that founded the first white settlements and brought their religious traditions to the New World. Nevertheless, though Mardi Gras grew out of that history, today’s festival would be more likely to bring to mind thoughts of year-round public drunkenness and debauchery on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter rather than as one last time to let loose before forty days of religious observance. Although within Louisiana, the Mardi Gras region is relatively small, it is part of a larger, Gulf Coast-wide region that stretches from Galveston, Texas to Pensacola, Florida (McEwen 2011).
Economic & Promotional Regions
The economic and promotional regions are the most arbitrary (Figure 4). Apart from conflating the Mardi Gras and Greater New Orleans regions, Figure 4 shows the only area where the CRT business names and culture have concurred on [End Page 66] the location and extent of a region. Cajun Country businesses lie within the region defined by the CRT (2012) and the region also roughly coincides with the Cajun and Acadian regions.
The Ark-La-Tex region is in the northwest corner of the state. Most of the businesses that use this term are clustered near Shreveport. The region is by no means restricted by the borders of the state and includes areas in adjacent Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The Crossroads region, according to the CRT (2012) is that part of the state where Protestant Christianity in the north transitions to Roman Catholic in the south. The CRT also links the region to its settlement history as an area where Spanish, French, Native-, African-, and Anglo-American influences all had a hand in developing the region over hundreds of years. Businesses in the state clearly do not identify with the CRT (2012) version of where a “Crossroads” region lies. Instead, the distribution of businesses that use the term creates a bifurcated region with an enclave in the center of the state but with most of the businesses in the central south, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans areas of the southeast.
Physiographic regions overlap more than the economic or directional regions because nature does not recognize north or south, or political and economic boundaries. The size of each region mapped in Figure 5 may also directly correspond with how important each region, and even the physical feature from which the regions get their names, may be to tourism or the regional economy or to the state as a whole.
The Gulf Coast is the largest region geographically but has only 189 businesses compared to the smaller Red River region with 139 more densely clustered businesses. Although the Gulf Coast is the largest region, its prominence is likely only boosted by the fact that, like the Mardi Gras region in the southeast, the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana is part of the large, multi-state region that spans the coast from Texas to Florida (McEwen 2011).
The Sabine River forms the border between Texas and Louisiana, but there is also a Sabine Parish just as there is a Red River Parish. A good portion of the Sabine businesses are located in the parish, but some are located on the other side of the state. However there are more Red River businesses, most of which are not in Red River Parish but are located closer to the more populated Ark-La-Tex/northwest area of the state. The Atchafalaya region is relatively minor in terms of businesses, with only 31. The Atchafalaya and Red Rivers almost meet considering the Red River is a tributary of the Mississippi from which the Atchafalaya flows before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The smallest physiographic region is the Kisatchie region. The Nacogdoches and the Kisatchie Wolds are hilly physical features in the south-central area of the state. There were no businesses that used the term, Nacogdoches, but six used Kisatchie and all of these are located in the dead center of the state near an unincorporated place called Kisatchie, presumably named for the Kisatchie Wold, or vice versa. The last physiographic region in Figure 5 is the Delta region. A number of businesses identify with the two separate areas of the state. Though there are businesses clustered together in Baton Rouge and New Orleans [End Page 67] that use “Delta,” they do not necessarily form a geographically cohesive region as the less densely distributed businesses in the northeast corner of the state do.
A Web of Regions
The final map (Figure 6) shows the complex web of regions that cover Louisiana and is a composite of the regions in Figures 2 through 4. There is a multitude of affiliations that any business could claim in order to demonstrate to customers with whom a particular business identifies, such as Ark-La-Tex, the Delta, Mardi Gras, or Acadiana. The most regionally complex area of the state is the southeast Greater New Orleans area which has an overlap with the Crossroads, Mardi Gras, the Gulf Coast, Acadiana, Creole, and Cajun regions, a gumbo, if you will. The primary goal of this research project was to begin with the regions outlined by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism and demonstrate that the regional geography of the state is much more complex (Figure 6) than that simple classification.
Conclusions: Keeping an Open Map
This article has demonstrated that the regional geography of Louisiana is complex and diverse. Figure 6 shows the state similar to the way that Lamme and Oldakowski (2007) presented Florida’s web of [End Page 68] vernacular regions. The study has thus accomplished three things: first, that a study similar to Lamme and Oldakowski’s (2007) and using established methods (Reed 1976; McEwen 2007, 2011; Ambinakudige 2009) can be applied to another state; second, that the Louisiana CRT (2012) promotes an inaccurate or incomplete representation of the vernacular regional geography of the state; and third, Louisiana is a unique place with multiple overlapping and intersecting identities that are, more or less, contained by distinct region boundaries.
Before offering final conclusions of the maps and vernacular regions presented here, it is important to note the process of how these boundaries have come into existence; that is, how these regions have come to be identified with certain cultures. Generally, these regions are voluntary (Zelinsky 1992) and while the process of becoming a region may be informal, the regions may sometimes be quite functional on many levels. For instance, the boundaries of Southwest Louisiana may have been established organically, with businesses deciding that customers needed to know what area of the state they served. When those decisions made at the individual level are aggregated, entities like the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (allianceswla.org) arise, for example, to bring together common economic or political interests for the region that otherwise had no such organization.
The Gulf Coast, the largest physiographic region in Louisiana, is of course not confined to the boundaries of the state but extends across and is part of neighboring states from Texas to Florida (Garreau 1981; [End Page 69] McEwen 2011). The Gulf Coast of Louisiana is nested as part of a larger functional economic region (Garreau 1981) that also represents a cultural region (McEwen 2011) with a shared history and collective identity of coastal living in that particular area of the United States. Regions such as Gulf Coast, Southwestern, or Ark-La-Tex are common sense however and understanding them in terms of the economic gains that motivated their creation and the need to be identified as such should be relatively transparent.
Perhaps equally transparent, yet less easily understood are the cultural-historical regions whose ties traverse generations of residents and family members. The map of Louisiana culture regions highlighting Acadian, Creole, Cajun, and Mardi Gras regions shows the manifestation of centuries of colonialism, European settlement, and secondary migration in the Americas on the cultural landscape of the state. The region officially recognized as Acadiana in the state (Lafayette Travel 2012) coincides with the Creole and Cajun regions outlined in Figure 3. The amorphous region that is formed by the distribution of businesses in the state that use these terms encapsulates a unique culture of food, music, and language that is important to the state’s identity on the national scale, but which separates the region from the rest of the state when viewed as it is here. The Acadiana region is an example of a culture region whose process of creation differs in that its identity was diffused by the eighteenth century Acadians. The multiple terms used to identify the people of the region—Acadians, Cajuns, and Creole—suggest that the boundaries between the three terms are fuzzy when actually they are not. We must recognize that the web-like nature of regions such as these are not always meant to be conflated or equated to other regions, though they may sometimes intersect. More importantly, this highlights a potential problem of sedimenting regions into the public consciousness through government promotions that declare the identity of a particular region without giving consideration to the “naturally occurring” borders of vernacular, cultural, or functional regions.
As a result of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism establishing a region known as Cajun Country, the otherwise officially recognized region of Acadiana (Natsis 1999) loses its spot on the map as does the Creole identity, which is historically a separate culture. As such, public entities and, indeed, geographers such as this author, need to keep “an open map” that does not obfuscate the nested and web-like natures of regional cultural and vernacular geography. As Lamme and Oldakowski (2007) accomplished in mapping the vernacular regions of Florida, I have shown that the regions of Louisiana are connected through different scales, overlap and intersect across the state (Figure 6). Moving forward in growing our apprehension of cultural regional geography from the micro-scale (Zelinsky 1992; McEwen 2007) to the national scale (Zelinsky 1980; Garreau 1981), we need to bear this in mind so that we do not forget or overwrite what is already there and, as is the case with the Louisiana CRT, create regions that do not pay homage or concede to the existing cultural and vernacular landscape.
Mr. John W. McEwen is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography & Anthropology at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803. Email: email@example.com. edu & Twitter: @johnnymac7412. His research includes people-place relationships, food and alcohol studies, and sports geography.
The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their timely and very thorough review of the originally submitted manuscript. [End Page 70]