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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Special issue of Journal of American History examines Hurricane Katrina's impact

Jan. 22, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Hurricane Katrina made instant history in August 2005 when it slammed the Gulf Coast and inundated New Orleans. It makes sense, then, that historians are already examining the disaster through the lens of their discipline, placing it in context and writing about what was lost and what can be learned.

A special issue of the Journal of American History, titled "Through the Eye of Katrina: The Past as Prologue?" offers 20 articles and essays on Katrina-related subjects, including political, urban, environmental, architectural and musical history.

"It's a very strong and compelling and interesting first take on the history of the event by 20 scholars whose major focus is on areas that surround this topic," said Edward Linenthal, professor of history at Indiana University and editor of the Journal.

This week, the Journal launched a Web site for the Katrina issue, including the full text of articles, interactive maps and media, music, video, topical threads and photographer-narrated slide shows. It can be seen at

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington. For the special December 2007 issue, Linenthal enlisted guest editors Lawrence N. Powell, professor of history at Tulane University, and Clarence L. Mohr, professor of history at the University of South Alabama, two experts on the history of the region.

The issue includes:

  • Writings on the politics of poverty, public housing, black churches, the Lower Ninth Ward, Vietnamese-Americans in New Orleans East, and "Disneyfication" in the French Quarter.
  • Articles on music, including clarinetist Michael White's first-person account of learning to play authentic, traditional New Orleans jazz from an older generation of African-American musicians.
  • Stories of how people have coped, such as Tulane historian Marline Otte's account of expressions of grief in tattoo culture.

Powell, in an essay titled "What Does American History Tell Us about Katrina and Vice Versa," examines the chaos of market-based recovery efforts alongside the growth of grass-roots activism and suggests the disaster could be "one of those detonating events that every so often nudge Americans back toward activist government …"

As for New Orleans itself, he writes, cities that rebound from disasters typically benefit from vibrant economies. "But ours is in shambles."

Note: News media may request a copy of the Journal from Nancy Croker at