Desire and Disaster in New Orleans

Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory

Desire and Disaster in New Orleans

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: August 2014

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Cultural Studies

Most of the narratives packaged for New Orleans's many tourists cultivate a desire for black culture—jazz, cuisine, dance—while simultaneously targeting black people and their communities as sources and sites of political, social, and natural disaster. In this timely book, the Americanist and New Orleans native Lynnell L. Thomas delves into the relationship between tourism, cultural production, and racial politics. She carefully interprets the racial narratives embedded in tourism websites, travel guides, business periodicals, and newspapers; the thoughts of tour guides and owners; and the stories told on bus and walking tours as they were conducted both before and after Katrina. She describes how, with varying degrees of success, African American tour guides, tour owners, and tourism industry officials have used their own black heritage tours and tourism-focused businesses to challenge exclusionary tourist representations. Taking readers from the Lower Ninth Ward to the White House, Thomas highlights the ways that popular culture and public policy converge to create a mythology of racial harmony that masks a long history of racial inequality and structural inequity.


“Thomas contends that the dominant heritage narrative subtly but pervasively interprets emancipation and desegregation as diminishing this culture and cultivating a post–civil rights urban environment beset by poverty, crime, immorality, educational failure, and political corruption.  Applying this thesis, Thomas analyzes how desire and disaster influenced media coverage of Hurricane Katrina and steered the city’s efforts to recover from that disaster by rekindling the familiar heritage narrative.  Both provocative and compelling, this work should stimulate additional scholarship. . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — B. M. Banta, Choice

“In this crisply written account, Lynnell Thomas provides a fascinating exploration of tourism in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina…. Desire and Disaster in New Orleans will be of great interest to specialists of New Orleans and Louisiana history, but those who plan to visit or have taken private company tours of the city will also enjoy it.” — Julien Vernet, Canadian Journal of History

“This is a well-researched, opportune, and useful niche study of the neo-colonial tourism industry and the profound effects it can have on both a micro and macro scale.” — Aoife M. Dempsey, U.S. Studies Online

“By pushing for the necessary, non-fetishized inclusion of African American representation in the tourism narratives of New Orleans as a force fueling the culture and society itself, Thomas challenges the reader to revise misconceptions of New Orleans's past as well as to authentically frame the post-Katrina future. This rejection of a post-racial, neoliberal understanding of race and class in New Orleans by questioning the ways blackness is codified and  consumed through a dominant legacy of tourism is a refreshing and crucial argument to be made not only in New Orleans, but also with an eye to the global urban tourism industry.” — Stephanie Hankinson, The Black Scholar

"Desire & Disaster in New Orleans is an innovative, incisive critique of the racialisation of New Orleans’ tourism industry and, furthermore, an important appeal as to why this issue continues to have a lasting impact on the lives of the people of New Orleans." — Tom Lennon, 49th Parallel

“Thomas’s Desire and Disaster in New Orleans challenges urban planners and boosters to mine the past in search of complex and inclusive narratives that will prove compelling to any visitor seeking to understand New Orleans.” — Juliette Landphair, Journal of American History

"Thomas has crafted a fascinating and well-written book that will be useful for courses not only in heritage tourism and public memory, but also in African American history, American studies, and urban history." — Ella Howard, Journal of Southern History

"Desire and Disaster in New Orleans gives a voice to not only the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, but also to the residents of New Orleans who have been systematically silenced for generations." — Melissa Sedlacik, Oral History Review

"Thomas leads readers to question the extent to which alternative tourism narratives can be constructed to more justly address constructions of blackness." — Casey Schreiber, Trotter Review

"[T]he book sheds lights on how the myth of racial harmony and an economic recovery was made via public policies and popular memory and discloses African American agency that continues to resist mainstream interpretations of the city history and racial politics." — Yuya Kiuchi, American Studies

"Thomas builds a broad historical narrative of New Orleans racialised tourist economy, which, among many other benefits, is illuminative in regards to the wildly distorted stories of violence and chaos that were reported during the post-Katrina flooding of New Orleans. Thomas offers a richly told and detailed history of the way the city’s tourist image has framed and delimited black citizenship, an invaluable context for the ways in which African-Americans were portrayed during the catastrophe." — Arin Keeble, Comparative American Studies

"A strong work that will appeal not only to New Orleanians but also to those who are interested in how public memory and public policy inform each other to rectify and challenge the status quo." — Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Library Journal

"[Thomas's] arguments offer significant insights into the racial representation of New Orleans and what it means for the city's majority population." — Leslie Parr, Louisiana History

"A compelling look at the inherent racism in the tourism industry in New Orleans." — Abel A. Bartley, Journal of African American History

"New Orleans is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Lynnell L. Thomas's book should be required reading for all visitors to the city. It is a powerful, much-needed critique of how the tourism industry romanticizes the city's history of slavery and race relations.  It is also an important account of how African Americans have struggled to create a place within the industry for themselves and their history."
  — Leslie M. Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863

"This highly original book fills a significant gap in the literature on New Orleans and on tourism in general by offering a rare look at African American tourism within the dominant (white) tourism narrative. Desire and Disaster in New Orleans will be vital reading for scholars working on New Orleans and those examining representations of African Americans in modern American culture. It is filled with astute analyses based on Lynnell L. Thomas's impressive interpretations of sources ranging from websites to interviews."
— Anthony J. Stanonis, author of Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918–1945


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lynnell L. Thomas is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. The City I Used to Come to Visit: Heritage Tourism and Racialized Disaster in New Orleans 1

2. Life the Way It Used to Be in the Old South: The Construction of Black Desire in New Orleans's Post-Civil Rights Tourism Narrative 27

3. Urbane, Educated, and Well-To-Do Free Blacks: The Challenge of a Creole World in Le Monde Créole French Quarter Courtyard Tours 53

4. Wasn't Northing Like That: New Orleans's Black Heritage Tourism and Counternarratives of Resistance 92

5. Starting All Over Again: Post-Katrina Tourism and the Reconstruction of Race 127

Epilogue 158

Notes 175

Bibliography 215

Index 249
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5728-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5714-8
Publicity material