". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, February 9, 2009

Before Time Runs Out On Us

The people of New Orleans and the history of the city contain vital information and clues to our past, and our present got to be what it is, in so many, many areas. Those who work in these fields are terrified that everything will disappear before we've re-learned what was lost or never noticed or deliberately supressed in the first place.

Therefore we are seeing so much brilliant work centered in this city pouring out of historians and musicologists and all kinds of other researchers.

Last week, a book we blurbed, arrived here, by Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, Assistant Professor in American Studies at the University of Texas (Austin), (2009) Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in Creole New Orleans. Harvard University Press.

This work elaborates on an area in our New Orleans books, which is that post the Louisiana Purchase, the new government established by the U.S. -- Protestant and Baptist, English speaking, English derived legal institutions and attitudes (particularly toward slaves), a different currency -- was a tremendous trauma to the southern looking old residents of the city, and the nearly simultaneous arrivals flooding in from St. Domingue.

Creole of color had their own, particular hurdles, whether free or slave. (This is when laws were passed that women of color must cover their hair.)

Shirley Elizabeth Thompson's book focuses on these challenges. This is just one of the many books in the pipelines. This makes me think about the global catastrophes we're experiencing, as with the failure of New Orleans's levees, the wildfires of California and Australia, the cooling of England, the expansion of desertification.

The footprint of humanity upon the planet's resources seem more like tearing up the railroad tracks (a favorite tactic in our Civil War, used by both sides) that made the planet operate for such a relatively short time, geologically speaking, in our favor.

A concomitant disaster in the not-distant future that demands decision-making presently, but about which commentary appears sparse outside of the library communities, is that the history of our time on this planet is in our cities on the coasts of rivers, oceans, and seas. If these cities are overwhelmed by flooding, we shall see a loss of the past and what we might possibly learn from it, beyond anything we saw happen here with the 2005 flood of New Orleans, which is a disaster for our national history, short as it has been. European and Asian cities are vastly more ancient, containers of history that reach into what we fancifully call pre-history, because written records are not available, even as numbers on pot shards.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

Preserving and even discovering the history of New Orleans, is not in the budget of the ethnically cleansed, privatized city it's now.