Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy

Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy

Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy

Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy


"A seminal social and economic history of tourism and travel promotion in New Orleans, covering nearly two centuries from the early 1800s to the present. Authentic New Orleans should instantly become a standard case history in the sociology of tourism.' - John Hannigan, author of Fantasy City: Pleasure and Profit in the Postmodern Metropolis "In this remarkable book, Kevin Fox Gotham combines careful historical research, vivid ethnographic observation and sophisticated theoretical insight to produce an indispensable account of New Orleans' tourist economy, from its earliest origins to the eve of Hurricane Katrina. A major achievement." -Richard Douglas Lloyd, author of Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City

"Gotham's bold critique of the heritage industry in New Orleans as exemplified by its famous French Quarter, Mardi Gras parades, and Creole cuisine exposes a city steeped in the ugly legacy of racial segregation and class exclusion. In rich narrative prose Gotham persuasively explains how commercial development and tourism's overarching footprint may have devastated the heart of the city even before Katrina washed it all away. This is an important book. -David Grazian, author of Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs "Gotham traces a fascinating yet critical history of racial exclusion, corporate tourism, and urban branding that students of all cities should read." -Sharon Zukin, author of The Cultures of Cities

"Authentic New Orleans provides a unique interpretation of the city, one that goes beyond its material elements (and devastation) and moves into the rich cultural roots of this special American landmark. I recommend it not only to students of cities, but to all those with a passion for and interest in American culture." -Anthony Orum, author of City-Building in America

Mardi Gras, jazz, voodoo, gumbo, Bourbon Street, the French Quarter - all evoke that place that is unlike any other: New Orleans. In Authentic New Orleans, Kevin Fox Gotham explains how New Orleans became a tourist town, a spectacular locale known as much for its excesses as for its quirky Southern charm. Gotham begins in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina amid the whirlwind of speculation about the rebuilding of the city and the dread of outsiders wiping New Orleans clean of the grit that made it great. He continues with the origins of Carnival and the Mardi Gras celebration in the nineteenth century, showing how, through careful planning and promotion, the city constructed itself as a major tourist attraction. By examining various image-building campaigns and promotional strategies to disseminate a palatable image of New Orleans on a national scale Gotham ultimately establishes New Orleans as one of the originators of the mass tourism industry - which linked leisure to travel, promoted international expositions, and developed the concept of pleasure travel. Gotham shows how New Orleans was able to become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States, especially through the transformation of Mardi Gras into a national, even international, event. All the while Gotham is concerned with showing the difference between tourism from above and tourism from below - that is, how New Orleans? distinctiveness is both maximized, some might say exploited, to serve the global economy of tourism as well as how local groups and individuals use tourism to preserve and anchor longstanding communal traditions.


Research for this book began during my first few years as an assistant professor in the sociology department at Tulane University. Within months of moving to New Orleans in 1997, I became fascinated by the strong sense of place identity that seemed to radiate through the city's neighborhoods and institutions, despite the trenchant inequalities and antagonisms that marked everyday life. I quickly learned that one of the most recognized terms residents use to describe New Orleans is “authentic,” an undefined and elusive referent that nevertheless makes up the city's everyday vocabulary. New Orleans is a place of distinctive authenticity, people would tell me, because of the unique “culture” that has developed over the centuries. the central components of this unique culture include jazz music and jazz funerals, creole cuisine, French and Spanish architecture, streetcars, historic neighborhoods, multiplicity of festivals and Mardi Gras, and famous cemeteries—the “cities of the dead,” where bodies are buried above the ground. Interwoven with these signifiers of local culture is a tapestry of diverse ethnic histories and identities built up over three centuries of shifting group migrations into the bustling and footloose city.

As time went by, I gradually came to appreciate the subtle cues of place character that define New Orleans: the diverse musical genres broadcast on wwoz, the community radio station; the climax of festivity that occurs on Fat Tuesday; the charm of the French Quarter and the Garden District; and the revelry of Jazz Fest, among many other symbolic indicators of authenticity. I became interested in how tourism practices, modes of staging, and visualization seemed to interpenetrate with meanings of local culture. I began to explore tourism as a set of social practices and collective representations—vocabularies, symbols, or codes—that structure people's definitions of culture and frame their assertions of authenticity. By 2001, I was deeply involved in participant observation and ethnographic work in the city. I attended dozens of . . .

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