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Ethnography of Performance and Identity In New Orleans and French Louisiana

Adapted from Tulane University ANTH 3395/6395

This course focuses on symbolic meaning in the vernacular expressive culture or folkloric forms of community groups in New Orleans, French Louisiana, the Gulf South region and selected out migrant locations. It addresses differential identities of tribal, ethnic, regional, religious, linguistic, occupational, class and gender affiliations – and examines aesthetic forms as a primary means to do so. Some of these are largely intangible such as music and dance, ritual and festival, narrative and jokes; others are tangible or material culture to varying degrees such as the built environment (houses, boats, landscape use), crafts, costumes and cuisine. All are examined via ethnographic and historical writing, oral histories and documentary media as to how shared cultural knowledge is performed in an array of contexts. These include dancehalls, Carnival parades, second lines, work settings, festivals, neighborhood museums, sacred spaces and so on.

Nick Spitzer

Anthropology and American studies

Nick Spitzer is a renowned folklorist, creator and voice of the public radio program American Routes, and a professor of American studies and anthropology at Tulane. He received his B.A. in anthropology cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.A. and Ph.D. with distinction in anthropology (folklore) from the University of Texas.

Spitzer created the Louisiana Folklife Program in 1978 and served as the first State Folklorist until 1985. His work helped bring new understanding and respect of Louisiana’s traditional cultures.

Course Chapters

  • About This Chapter

    The course begins by discussing keywords and concepts like vernacular culture, expressive culture, folklore, cultural region, performance, identity, Creoles and creolization,…

  • About This Chapter

    New Orleans traditional jazz and brass bands are discussed in detail by guest speakers Bruce Raeburn, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University;…

  • About This Chapter

    In this section of the course, New Orleans' colonial history, especially French and African relationships, is discussed in depth. Carnival in…

  • About This Chapter

    French Louisiana and its cultural geography are discussed in class having read French, Cajun, Creole, Houma: A Primer on Francophone Louisiana,…

  • About This Chapter

    New Orleans Building Trades and Cajun Women's Domestic Labor French Louisiana is further explored in the realm of music and Cajun…

  • About This Chapter

    Creoles of Louisiana, whose complexities regarding identification are endless, function as an example of the broader process of cultural creolization. Creolization…

  • About This Chapter

    The course resumes a discussion of New Orleans Jazz with a focus upon one of its originators and arguably jazz's first…

  • About This Chapter

    The course concludes with a discussion of second lines and of the pivotal role music and other forms of cultural creativity…