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Context for an unforgettable destination: A public history walking tour of New Orleans

McMullen, D. Ryan
New Orleans holds a place of fascination for a significant number of Americans, and 20 million tourists visit each year. Walking tours are one of the most common methods of conveying public history in New Orleans. The thesis argues a very foundational public history presentation was missing from a city that welcomes a broad range of visitors for rather short stays in the city. The thesis explores the development of a public history presentation that could succinctly, in a matter of a two-hour walking tour, provide the context for some of the most common questions of New Orleans visitors. The project goal was to provide a comprehensive, yet coherent, chronological, historically complex tour to a broad segment of the public. The project demonstrates it is possible to create a historic walking tour in a dense urban setting that is spatially and temporally coherent. It was developed within the Friends of the Cabildo Walking Tour, a program of the 60-year old non-profit arm of the public Louisiana State Museum system in New Orleans. Many curatorial choices immediately imposed: finding the right balance of academic rigor to entertaining delivery; navigating the inherent limitations of urban geography and human physicality; and choosing the narrative through-lines to impart, when telling a 500-year history. The embedded argument within the tour is that the history of New Orleans, if one of colonial legacies, port connectivities, and Creole culture, is also one of complex cosmopolitanism and race. Indeed, the slow, and arguably on-going Americanization of this historically Caribbean and Creole city is full of stories of conflict; the city's centrality in the domestic slave trade, its three-tiered caste system, and its repressive racial discrimination clashes with a reputation as the cosmopolitan center of the South. The thesis dialogued with recent scholarship and public history work within Southern heritage tourism and public memory of race in the South, and documents the development of a tour that acknowledges the complicated - brutal, dehumanizing, and persistent - history of slavery and racial inequity in America, in this case in New Orleans.