- Atlantic IdentitiesNew Views of Louisiana in Global Perspective
Edited by CÉCILE VIDAL
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015
Edited by LAURA LYONS MCLEMORE
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016
ANDREW SLUYTER, CASE WATKINS, JAMES P. CHANEY, and ANNIE M. GIBSON, foreword by DANIEL D. ARREOLA
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015
New Orleans is a global city. From its establishment in 1718 to its complicated and multicultural present the city has enjoyed deep connections to all parts of the Atlantic world. That global perspective, however, has not, until recently, played a major part in the historiography of the city. Nineteenth-century historians such as Charles E. A. Gayarré and Alcée Fortier dwelled mainly on the white Creole elite residents of the Crescent City. Until recently, [End Page 709] images of the slave community have been rather monochromatic. Within the African American community, historians have always done a good job of making distinctions between free people of color and slaves, but have generally lumped the free population into two main parts, the Louisiana-born residents of the city and the refugees of the Saint Domingue revolt. Native American influences also tended to receive only a passing nod in the traditional histories of this vitally important American city. In the last few decades, however, a number of historians—Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Kimberly S. Hanger, Daniel Usner, Laura Foner, and others—have begun to reveal the diversity of early Louisiana and suggest its influence on the growth and development of the city. These four wonderful books, each in its own unique way, contribute to that historiography and add depth, balance, and important corrections. Together, they present a much more subtle and nuanced view of the city’s past and, with hope, offer a much better context from which historians and residents alike can assess its present.
Conceptions of that complex identity inform each of these works. Beginning with the seventeenth-century French Creole origins of the Louisiana colony and moving into the early nineteenth century, the authors in Cécile Vidal’s excellent anthology probe the parameters of some of the most intimate relationships between Louisiana’s peoples and uncover an even more diverse past. Dividing the essays into three related parts—“Empires,” “Circulations,” and “Intimacies”—the authors construct a richly nuanced view of the confluence of cultures that made Louisiana both a representation of and a contrast to the Atlantic world paradigm.
When one sees the word empire in a work of early American history, one thinks of the “imperial school” reminiscent of early to mid-twentieth-century colonial historians such as Charles McLean Andrews, Charles Gibson, and Lawrence Henry Gipson. Guillaume Aubert, Alexandre Dubé, and Sylvia L. Hilton, however, offer a deeper glimpse into the relationships between colonies and empire than those earlier, muscular discussions. Often, they cast developments in both the imperial center and the colonial peripheries as reactions to developments within both the colonies and the empire, but also in response to wider engagements with empires and institutions across the Atlantic world. In doing so, they present an extremely complex view of how both international forces and the actual on-the-ground realities of settlement and development of the colony conspired [End Page 710] to create an even more diverse community than previous studies have fathomed.
In the anthology’s opening essay, Guillame Aubert surveys the imperial origins of slavery regulations throughout the Atlantic world that ultimately informed the development of Louisiana’s Code Noir. Catholic priests, the Vatican, colonial officials, and slave owners all pursued their own conflicting interests and policies that ultimately led to both a regularization and local variation of slave codes throughout the French and Spanish Atlantic possessions. Viewing slavery as something beyond a mere relationship between metropolitan centers and colonial peripheries, Aubert situates the institution in a varied Atlantic context...