- Outreach & Teaching
This week’s episode takes a close look at New Orleans and shines some light on the legacies of Hurricane Katrina and the impacts of climate change as Louisiana suffers under another round of mass flooding. Our guest and guide (11:39) is the brilliant Shannon Lee Dawdy—Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, author of Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans (U Chicago Press, 2008), and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow—who weaves together anthropological, archaeological and historical methods in her research and writing. We talk about her most recent book, Patina: A Profane Archaeology (U Chicago Press, 2016) and what it teaches us about the importance of materiality and narrative in the history of New Orleans. We talk about New Orleans’s distinctive critical nostalgia and how it challenges the temporality and utilitarianism of the fast capitalism that surrounds it. We talk about collective care of objects and responses to trauma. And we talk about contemporary ruins, living with ghosts, how Louisiana’s relationship to the oil industry and riverine commerce has undermined its environmental stability, and whether the levees will hold in the future. We agree on the revolutionary potential of everyday practices and small acts. We then (58:00) turn toward her current ethnographic research and film about contemporary American death practices, which Shannon convinces us is a happier topic than it sounds. We touch on popular ontologies of the afterlife, the rise in green burial practices, cremation and carbon footprint, and the beauty of cemeteries. The takeaway: death affirms life, but also reminds us that what we do with our finitude makes all the difference. So, dear listeners, please send energy and support to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana and tend to the people and places you love.