New Orleans


Often referred to as the “most unique” city in America, New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, French Creole influence, jazz music, and of course Mardi Gras! Join Active Minds as we explore the colorful history, culture and people of the “Big Easy,” including the unique challenges of living in a coastal city where nearly half the land is below sea level! Bring your colored beads and your jazz trumpet. It’s the next best thing to being there!

Key Lecture Points

  • Founded 300 years ago, New Orleans provides an interesting perspective on the United States, both past and present.  The mix of race and cultures--Native American, European, African and Caribbean--in the city throughout its history often went against the norm of the rest of the country, yet slavery and racial violence featured prominently in its history as well.  The impact of such a cultural blend has influenced American society, politics, music and cuisine.
  • Spanish explorers first came to the mouth of the Mississippi in 1528 but were driven away by Native Americans.  In 1682 the French explorer, Robert Cavalier de la Salle claimed Louisiana for King Louis XIV.  The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718, named for Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, who was acting head of state at the time.  Early settlers included French from Europe and colonies in Canada and the Caribbean as well as German, Italian and Spanish settlers.  The city soon became a major hub in the slave trade.  In 1762 King Charles III of Spain acquired the city from Louis XV, his cousin.  In 1800 Spain ceded Louisiana back to France.  In 1803 Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the US.
  • New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations, including masquerade balls, lavish dinners, floats, parades and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of visitors.  Financially, Mardi Gras is an economic boon and job creator for the city, providing a total direct impact of over $160 million.
  • New Orleans has suffered through more than its fair share of disasters, notable examples being Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill following the explosion of BP’s DeepWater Horizon oil rig.  The choices made by New Orleans in rebuilding communities and putting in place preventive measures provide valuable lessons as the US grapples with climate change and the problems of rising coastal waters and increasingly more destructive storms.

Exploration Questions

  • How did the unique mix of race and culture in New Orleans both uphold racial discrimination and yet also create one of the most racially accepting societies during moments of its history?
  • How is climate change impacting New Orleans?  How is New Orleans preparing for the next big storm?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you celebrate Mardi Gras? Have you ever attended Carnival in New Orleans or another city?
  • What are the stories and legends that most intrigue you about New Orleans? Why?

More to Explore

  • Official tourism site of the city Click here
  • Official site of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Chase, John. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children:...and Other Streets of New Orleans! Pelican Publishing, 2001. 280 pages. This classic, humorous reference on the naming of the city's roadways reveals the intriguing tales of the developers, families, notorious and famous people, places, and events from which these names were created, sharing the street-level history of this one-of-a-kind American city.
    Click here to order
  • Kilmeade, Brian, Don Yaeger. Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny. Sentinel, 2017. 288 pages. The authors bring alive General Andrew Jackson and the importance of the Battle of New Orleans. If the British had succeeded in taking New Orleans, it would have given them control of the mouth of the Mississippi, cutting Americans off from this vital trade route and jeopardizing the previous decade’s Louisiana Purchase.
    Click here to order
  • Gerdes, Caroline. An Oral History of the New Orleans Ninth Ward.  Pelican Publishing Company, 2017.  208 pages.  This book features interviews with generations of residents of the 9th Ward, honestly describing discrimination, neighbors, poverty and faith, showing the reader what it means to be a resident of this community.
    Click here to order
  • Williams, Tennesee, Arthur Miller. A Streetcar Named Desire.  New Directions Publishing Company, 2004.  224 pages.  This is Tennessee Williams’ classic play about Blanche DuBois who comes to live with her sister and brother in law in New Orleans.
    Click here to order