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New Orleans and Senegal in the Atlantic World

Adapted from Tulane University HISU 3100-01

This course explores the connected and comparative histories and cultures of two sites spawned by the Atlantic World phenomena of slave trading and colonization. The Atlantic age lasted from the middle of the 1400s until the early 1800s. The connections between New Orleans and Senegal began in the early 18th century, when thousands of captives were transported from their homeland in Senegambia, today’s Senegal, to become slaves in the French colony of Louisiana. Two thirds of the enslaved men, women and children forced to immigrate to Louisiana during the colony’s French colonial era (1699-1769) came from this region of Africa. Their role in shaping the economy, built environment, and culture of Louisiana and its capital city of New Orleans ensured Senegambia’s permanent imprint on this part of the Gulf South. This early link between the two places was one of many forged over more than two centuries. New Orleans, founded in 1718, was the capital of French colonial Louisiana, and Saint-Louis du Senegal, founded in 1659, was the capital of French colonial Senegal. Both cities perch at the edge of fragile estuarian landscapes and have long relied on the sea for nourishment and economies bound to international trade. Both became canvasses for the projection of European colonial ambitions and ideals at the same time that they gave birth to Creole cultures notable for metissage and hybridity. Both have preserved the architecture of their colonial past, making them popular destinations for tourists seeking the charm and romance of a different era. Both host international jazz festivals, a modern embodiment of musical connections that began when captive Senegambians brought their tradition of plucked gourd instruments to the Americas, where they inspired the evolution of the banjo. Both are associated with exotic, mythologized free women of color, the signares of Saint-Louis and the quadroons of New Orleans.

Emily Clark

Associate Professor

Emily Clark is the Clement Chambers Benenson Professor in American Colonial History. She specializes in early American and Atlantic world history. Her research interests include religion, gender, race, and historical memory.

Course Chapters

  • About This Chapter

    Two thirds of the Africans sold into slavery and brought to Louisiana before 1731 — nearly 3,800 men, women, and children…

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    The French established the colony of Louisiana in 1699 and laid out its capital city of New Orleans in 1718. Despite…

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    Travel accounts provide readers with the most vivid descriptions of New Orleans and Senegal from the Atlantic era. Europeans who traveled…

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    Manuscript records created by the French are the richest and most reliable source for reconstructing the events and human experiences in…

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    Catholicism was the state religion of France during the Atlantic age and the activities of missionary orders of priests, friars, and…

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    The Atlantic World produced a dynamic of sustained encounter among Europeans, Native Americans and Africans and African-descended people. One of the…

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    The picturesque colonial architecture of New Orleans and Saint-Louis du Senegal is one of the most obvious similarities between the two…

  • About This Chapter

    The origins of New Orleans jazz have long been thought to be a product of the meeting of African and European…