My name is Anna Hartnell and I’m a British academic working from Birkbeck, University of London. My research is primarily concerned with twentieth- and twenty-first-century United States literature, culture and politics. My first book, Rewriting Exodus: American Futures from Du Bois to Obama, explored theological-political strands of the African American liberation narrative. This work led quite directly to my current project and the subject of this blog: post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina starkly highlighted the widespread existence of racialized poverty decades after the civil rights movement. The dispersal of black New Orleanians all over the United States after the storm recalled for many a history of forced separations and exile. The racial and environmental justice movements that have emerged in the post-storm city in response to neoliberal gentrification trends might be seen as another chapter in the struggle for black civil and human rights. My work for the last few years has focused on the construction of the post-Katrina city in political and journalistic discourse, literary narrative, tourist practices, documentary film. The aim of this work has been to situate post-hurricane New Orleans within wider understandings of US nationalism and globalization.
My undergraduate work in American studies was the direct route to my topic, but somewhere in the background the influence of my parents’ political activism lurks; as a child I attended regular anti-apartheid demonstrations outside the South African Embassy in London, and spent weekends camping on Greenham Common as part of a women’s peace movement and CND (Campaign against Nuclear Disarmament) protest against the use of the site as a base for cruise missiles. I’m interested in the ways in which academic scholarship can complement work for racial and environmental justice (as opposed to being simply parasitic upon it).
This project is funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and is entitled: ‘After Katrina: projecting racial, transnational and environmental futures beyond the American century.’ Its larger horizon, a book provisionally titled After Katrina: Race, Transnationalism, and the End of the American Century, will attempt to chart the ways that post-storm New Orleans and projections of its future(s) intervene in and complicate current discourses of US decline.
The project involves a three-month trip to New Orleans in autumn 2013, which follows a number of shorter trips to the city since the late summer of 2005, where I will be a visiting scholar at Tulane University and working with the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South. This trip involves researching archives, interviewing various actors in the city’s recovery and reconstruction process, including artists and activists, and running a small one-day conference entitled ‘After Katrina: transnational perspectives on the futures of the Gulf South’.
These posts are written from the perspective of a white, London-based academic who is looking in at post-Katrina New Orleans from the outside. The title of this blog is in part an attempt to keep me aware of my own positioning in relation to my research. This blog will provide commentary and analysis of significant events, trends, exhibits etc. in the post-Katrina city, and will also reflect on the ways that these currents intersect with larger scholarly and cultural/political debates on the contemporary United States.