Bourbon Street: A History, Richard Campanella, Louisiana State University Press, 2014
I don’t usually do book reviews, but I felt compelled to talk about this one.
I love New Orleans. I lived there for four years, and that has certainly helped both develop my affection for the city and its people, but has also informed my ideas and opinions about the city. Prior to living there, I had visited the city about 8 – 10 times, always for a conference/convention. The areas I visited then were the French Quarter (including Bourbon Street), the CBD/Warehouse District and the Convention Center. Living there, and visiting since, I have seen much of the rest of the city which is different than the Quarter and has its own charms.
In the Preface, Richard Campanella notes: “And yet Bourbon Street has been almost completely ignored by scholars. Not a single book has been written about its history, much less an in-depth scholarly investigation.” This book fills that gap. The book is divided into three parts: Origins, Fame and Infamy, and Bourbon Street as a Social Artifact.
“Origins” sets the stage both in talking about the larger history, and some of the geography of the area. “Fame and Infamy” has a period-by-period history divided into six eras. The last part includes more interesting analyses. The book includes reproductions of maps and photographs, some from very early periods.
Part of the analysis of history and data that he does goes well beyond what I consider “geography” – a concept probably limited by my elementary school classes on the topic. Some of the modern data is based on research and data collected by the author: musical genre performed, volume of pedestrian traffic, numbers of men and women standing on balconies, origins of Bourbon Street pedestrians, and local versus out-of-state ownership of property
It is a fascinating history and discourse about the most famous part of New Orleans. It is a weaving together of tales told by history, and by data, along with anecdotes from the participants.
I had a chance to hear the author speak at the Louisiana Book Festival last weekend, and he was as engaging as his book.