Category Archives: economics

164: Louis Hunter’s Steamboats on the Western Rivers

In Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History, Louis Hunter situates a detailed history of the development of steamboat technology in the social, technological, and economic context in which it developed; he argues that “the growth of the West and the rise of steamboat transportation were inseparable; they were geared together and each was dependent upon the other.”

Using contemporary newspapers, census documents, traveller accounts, and other primary sources form about the 1780s to the end of the 19th century, Hunter shows that steam transportation technology was the result of many people’s contributions (both English and American), not just those of a few great men.  He also shows that in America, steam navigation started on the Atlantic seaboard but quickly moved inland to the Western rivers, where steamboats dominated inland transportation and commerce for a generation; and he argues that from 1925 to 1850 the steamboat was the main technological agent in developing the Mississippi basin from a “raw frontier society” to “economic and social maturity.”  Finally, he claims that the Western steamboat was known worldwide as the “typical” American steamboat partly because it was so important to the economy of the region and partly because it was unique in its design, construction, and operation.  Published in 1949, this book was the scholarly survey of the development of steam navigation on the Western rivers that pulled together technology, operations, and governmental intervention into a consistent whole.

Americans were having a hard time with transportation in the early 19th century, so that’s where American steam innovation tended.  Hunter begins with early development in steam propulsion and the business of carrying – John Fulton patented his version of the steamboat and secured a monopoly with New Orleans, only to have it overturned in 1817 when Henry Shreve built his own boats and started running them on the Mississippi without permission.  In 1918, a steamboat boom started after Shreve reported 30-50% returns after only a year in operation.  Competition, economic depression, and improvements in steamboat technology reduced rates considerably through 1825, but boats were able to run faster and thus still turn profits.  By 1820, steamboats were well-established on the “trunk lines” of the river system (Mississippi and Ohio); by 1830 they had expanded into major tributaries and taken on most passenger and freight trade.  Keelboats remained the main transportation in smaller, shallower tributaries, and flatboats continued to be the main shipping method for bulky, low-value products until the Civil War.  By the 1840s, writers were saying that steam had “colonized the West” because it economically connected Westerners to the east and politically, via faster communication, to each other.

By the 1850s, steam had reached its golden age.  They had cast iron hulls instead of wooden ones and new high pressure boilers that led to fantastic accidents, and their opulent rooms were readily accessible to anyone who could pay the (widely fluctuating) fare, so travellers’ accounts are full of stories of the wide variety of class and race and occupation they met in steamboats.  The business of steamboating had also evolved from individual owners to small corporations that ran packet lines up and down the rivers.  However, Hunter points out that steamboats were also complicit in the growing industrialization of the West, especially in their division between cabin fare and deck passage – deck fare was 1/4 of the price of cabin fare, but deck passengers were usually the first to die in accidents, and they also had to help the crew.  And other transportation modes were beginning to have a substantial impact on the Western river trade: beginning in the late 1830s, canals diverted northern East-West freight, and railroad lines began connecting to steamboat towns in the 1840s, so that by 1860 Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg and New Orleans were all connected by rail.

While steamboats were profitable during the Civil War, railroads all but destroyed them afterwards: steam fare was cheap, and getting into the steam business required a low capital investment, which meant high competition and low profits in an industry already tainted by boiler explosions in the early 1850s.  Further, rails could promise what steamboats couldn’t: speed, regularity, frequency, reliability, year-round service, through-booking, direct service that could expand anywhere, not just on natural waterways, and such massive networks that they could run part of their systems at a loss just to kill local competition.  They’re also not above building extremely low bridges over waterways.  While barges are still used in the 20th century, steamboats were over before the end of the 19th century.

Although Hunter’s account is remarkably uncomplicated with respect to race and gender, and a discussion of slavery is conspicuously absent, his book otherwise shows how a transportation technology uniquely suited to the American West contributed both to the physical construction of American empire and to the construction of an American ideology based around individualism, technology, and capitalism on the landscape.


102: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space

Lefebvre was one of the very first orals books I read.  My notes from a year ago: 

Henri Lefebvre’s vast, multifaceted The Production of Space could probably be said to advance any number of arguments, but I think his most compelling argument is the one that brings space and knowledge into a classical Marxist framework: capitalist Western society is moving from the production of things in space to the production of space itself, which means that capitalist powers are increasing their hold and surveillance on ordinary people (aka space is now shaping the working class).  However, all is not lost: no matter how much they try, the people who build and shape “dominant” space and employ the working class can’t squeeze the working class out of existence or keep them from “appropriating” and shaping space to suit their own needs, nor can they make the world a completely visual, timeless, ideological construct.  Regular people have bodies, and we live in specific places at specific historical moments, and we shape those places (yeah, I said places, not spaces) into unique, historical “works of art” that contrast with the partially commodified built environment constructed by the ruling class.  To say that capitalism has moved beyond the product to space itself is to argue for both an increasing attempt at totalizing control of society through space AND increased resistance from the people who live in, experience, and shape that space – with the potential for a socialist revolution where appropriated spaces based on the human body/lived experience and use-value take precedence over dominant, visual spaces and exchange-value.

Things he does well: Lefebvre is working primarily within Philosophy, though he declares several times that he wants to abolish disciplinary divides and develop a unitary theory of space that everyone can use.  Somewhat like de Certeau, Lefebvre is trying to find a way to go from structuralism – particularly Barthes’ semiology – to a decentered, poststructuralist conception of space and social formations.  Unlike de Certeau, however, Lefebvre is working explicitly within the Marxist tradition, so I might say he’s going for more of a Marxist – post Marxist transition.  His additions to Barthes are a) the body and b) power.  He follows the “critical” approach of classical Marxists in that his writing is part descriptive (dissection of current conditions), and part prescriptive (showing how to get from here to the revolution!), but he relies heavily on Deleuze (who I never realized was actually using Hegelian terminology until just now, but hey), especially regarding the general and the particular and the whole bit on difference and repetition in the construction of space.  He emphasizes production and processes and the movement made possible by the dialectic.  I think his big takeaways are: the distinction between dominant and appropriated space/ the idea that space both shapes and is shaped by social relations, particularly the relations of production; the emphasis on the (fleshly) body, spatial practice, and lived experience instead of a mental, primarily visual space; the tendency for capitalism to want to create as homogenized, timeless, placeless a surface as possible and the ability for embodied users to create unique places by giving spaces a history (i.e., by putting them in time); that space is to language as base is to superstructure (i.e., fuck the discursive plane); and the tension between local places (that operate via dialectics and power) and global capitalist networks – not world-systems, mind you, but networks – that operate within triads, especially the capitalist one of land, labour, and capital, aka rent, wages, and profit. (228)  Social struggle is spatial struggle; no space can exist apart from ideology/ particular social structures. 

Things I didn’t like so much: Ok, I realize he’s doing some important work by arguing against a conception of space as a coherent entity (hence hegemony, which allows him a good deal of messiness and gets him out of the trap of totalization), and sure, the form of your work (particularly when you’re engaging with theories of language) is implicit in your overall argument, but writing in such a fragmented, repetitive, circular way does no one any favors.  Also he is hella intense with the Marxism, which aside from being annoyingly polemical is theoretically problematic: he has a hard time integrating a basically deterministic, systematic, rational, Enlightenment mode of analysis with the “fleshly body” and with global capitalism – he ends up creating a zillion dialectics and triads and shaping them into a network, which, sure, is probably how the world works, but despite his insistence that it’s not reductive – it’s reductive.  Even with the messiness and the insistence that the class struggle no longer has a terrain or clear boundaries, it’s still neat and discrete.  Finally, despite insisting that disciplines should not get in the way of a theory of space, he primarily locates himself within philosophy.  This wouldn’t be so bad, except that, again, it gets in the way of his insistence on lived experience and physical, human space as the base upon which the superstructure of language and interpretation is built: as a philosopher, he argues that concepts (the concept of space, for instance) are foundational, rather than lived experience.  While I think he’s right to suggest that psychoanalysis might help him out of this quandry (it would link up nicely with his sensing-thinking-social triad), he doesn’t have much psychoanalysis in here.  He has Lacan, but Freud?  Zizek?  (Was Zizek after him?) 

Some connections: David Harvey’s post-Marxism is all over this book.  Lefebvre is obviously widely-read in his field, and engages easily with Foucault, Hegel, Marx (a lot), just to name a few.  He engages particularly with Deleuze, whose “body without organs,” “difference and repetition,” distinction between the singular and the general, and construction of a decentered (social?) field infuse Lefebvre’s thinking throughout, sometimes provoking him (fragmented bodies without organs drive him nuts!) sometimes sustaining him (the decentered field underpins his theory of global capitalism.)  He also, particularly in the conclusion, engages with the world-systems theorists, arguing that constructing the world in terms of flows and systems a) completely disregards the roads, objects, trucks, cities, trains, boats, political issues, etc., that create a global capitalist network (true) and b) is falsely totalizing because c) it completely ignores the embodied, lived experience (and agentive potential) of the working class AND d) it also disregards Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.  He thus paves the way for more nuanced interpretations of the global capitalist system.

And before I go, here is Lefebvre’s “conceptual triad of space:” 

1.     Spatial practice: production and/or reproduction in a particular place within a particular social formation
2.     Representations OF space: these are tied to the relations of production social order they produce.  They are historically contingent, and they mix understanding and ideology, so they are both political and coherent.  They operate in opposition to lived, historical space and are articulated with power.  They include knowledge, signs, codes; official space; rational, legible space; dominant or dominated space; architecture; part work, part product; more abstract space.
3.     Representational space embodies complex symbolisms, clandestine, underground, social life;  it is associated with lived experience, the body, the symbolic and non-verbal; it is living, not coherent; it works only, not necessarily leaving a record in the built environment; and it is underpinned by historical space.

101: David Harvey’s Condition of Postmodernity

David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity both updates and spatializes classical Marxist theory and situates studies of place within the context of post-1973 global capitalism.  He argues that postmodernity is a historical-geographical condition that is an aesthetic response to the crisis of overaccumulation.  Throughout, he emphasizes the continuity from modernity to postmodernity, the connection between new cultural and economic practices, the post-1973 development of flexible capital accumulation on a global scale, and new ways of thinking about time-space compression.  Some of his main points:

  • modernity was at once transient, fleeting, contingent AND eternal and immutable; the project of Modernism was effectively the last hurrah of the Enlightenment project: to create a scientific narrative of chaos that could both rationalize internal social fragmentation within a narrative of Progress AND break from the past
  • Postmodernism, on the other hand, celebrates difference, fragmentation, and the vernacular; it is spatial and pragmatic rather than temporal and abstract, and it revels in chaos and complexity.  As opposed to the Modernist city, the PoMo city is not divided into functional zones but instead develops by its own logic into something apolitically beautiful in its chaos.
  • Both Modernism and Postmodernism are dialectically related to their particular “regime of accumulation,” the particular configuration of capitalists, workers, state employees, financiers, and other political-economic agents that stabilizes the net product between consumption and accumulation.  In the first half of the 20th century, Fordism kept the regime of accumulation stable by slowly shaping global mass-production and mass-consumption into a core/periphery model with the US in the center.  

  • The massive recession in 1973 did not constitute a break with modernity, but it did start a reconfiguration of the global regime of accumulation into “flexible accumulation.”  The recession threw a lot of people out of work; this massive unemployment shifted the balance of power from workers and unions to employers, who began to emphasize geographic dispersion, flex time, and contract work.  At the same time, black markets, specialization, sweatshops, and new forms of non-productive “paper entrepreneurialism” further fragmented the world economic system and extended its reach while increasing the disparity between rich and poor.
  • The resultant uneven geographical development/ uneven geographical pattern of accumulation is thus a spatial solution to a new problem: overaccumulation of (non-productive) wealth created in the newly active financial markets.
  • If Modernism responded to economic and social chaos by trying to corral time into a grand narrative of Progress and a static core/periphery model, Postmodernism responds to the global crisis of overaccumulation and uneven development by aestheticizing space and privileging representation, tailored to local economic conditions, over analysis.
  • Both modernity and postmodernity are chaotic processes of capitalist expansion.  However, if Modernism was all about becoming and increasing the pace of production (and consumption), Postmodernism is all about being and increasing the need for consumption (and production)

Gotta love David Harvey for showing how postmodernity connects the “being” of place into the “becoming” of spatial capital flows: rather than arguing for a clean break between modernity and postmodernity, he shows that postmodernity builds networks of aestheticized places out of the existing core/periphery model of modern capitalism.

80: Nan Boyd’s Wide Open Town

In Wide Open Town, Nan Boyd argues that San Francisco’s bar-based queer culture was just as important to the development of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement there as were the city’s more mainstream activist groups.  The book relies primarily on some 40 oral histories with San Francisco bargoers, owners, and LGBT rights activists, as well as tourist guides, periodicals, clippings, photographs, and public records to construct (in often meticulous detail) a narrative of how the development of San Francisco’s gay scene swelled into a fight for civil rights.  Although the writing style is a bit heavy-handed at times, Boyd’s innovative research and methodology create a narrative that is anything but closed or canonical.  Rather, by limiting her scope to San Francisco before 1965 and structuring the book in terms of community formation rather than strict chronology, Boyd is able to open up the development of San Francisco’s gay civil rights movement and analyze (or characterize) it in terms of a variety of local contextual factors.  As she moves through topics as diverse as the gay male community, tourism, and female impersonation; the lesbian community, prostitution, and the female body; policing and the construction of homosexuality as behavior- versus desire-based; homophile activism and class-based differences over separatism and assimilation; and coalition-building, she explores the relationships between economics, use of space, police and media oppression, and the development of a community into a class-for-itself.  The result is a narrative that characterizes San Francisco’s gay civil rights movement as a multi-class, space- and place-dependent grassroots movement.  Boyd’s work thus argues that, for this movement in this place and time, “the politics of everyday life were every bit as important as the politics of organized social movement activism.” (242)

While Wide Open Town’s main argument effectively breaks down any “great man” narratives that might plague this particular social movement, the more fascinating elements of the book (by far) are the methodological tools and sub-arguments it uses to achieve its purpose.  Methodologically, Boyd’s emphasis on space and economics allow for an incredibly thorough analysis of the development of bar-based (grassroots) activism.  Her emphasis on space affects her argument in two ways: first, because she limits her analysis (and her conclusions) to a single city, she is able to include city-specific factors like the Gold Rush, local resistance to anti-prostitution and anti-liquor laws, the presence of the military (and the AFDCB) during WWII, and local politicians and court cases in her analysis.  She can thus investigate relationships between local factors that would be invisible at a national level but that would arguably (and demonstrably) have affected the character of local communities more than national or Federal laws and events might have.  Emphasizing space also allows her to consider particular spaces within the city, especially gay bars and clubs, and to show how the physical construction and concentration of these spaces (and their relationship to non-queer spaces) helped build community.  Her emphasis on economics also has profound effects on her analysis: by constructing bars and prostitution in terms of economics (as well as in spatial and moral terms) she is able to explain queer culture in San Francisco as persecuted socially but necessary economically – and thus, eventually, powerful politically.  The sub-arguments that develop from Boyd’s creative use of these methodological tools are, accordingly, powerful arguments in themselves.  She argues, for instance, that sex and race tourism protected gay spaces and gay economies even as they exploited them; that military targeting of gay bars in the 1950s actually fostered the development of separate gay spaces (and thus gay communities) rather than eliminating them; and that the development of lesbian social and geographic spaces was intimately bound up with prostitution and thus with  the policing of the female body (which explains, at least somewhat, the myth that lesbians do not concentrate geographically.)  Thus, Boyd’s innovative methodology and sub-arguments work to open up the narrative of the movement to a multitude of possible causes and implications.

While Boyd’s extensive research and innovative methodology definitely construct a new narrative of the beginnings of San Francisco’s gay rights movement, the book does face some organizational and methodological challenges.  Although Boyd clearly portrays a grassroots movement that does not rely on top-down activist groups, her writing style often paints a different picture.  She begins each chapter with an oral history that touches on some of the main themes of the chapter – thus indicating that her chapters are, in fact, organized around her data and not around her own theories – but the strong organizational tools and clear statements of thesis and conclusion at times seem to indicate a mistrust of the reader.  I can’t remember the last time that I complained about strong thesis sentences and conclusions, but sometimes Boyd seems to be so focused on driving home her point that the vast primary research on which that point is based takes a back seat to exposition.  Often, I found myself paying more attention to the structure of the book than to its content, which I think does Boyd a great disservice.  In addition, while Boyd’s decision to bound her study geographically and temporally really allows her to hone in on local bars, politicians, drag queens, regulatory bodies and activist groups, in some ways this boundedness does her a disservice as well.   Although she is able to pinpoint local factors affecting a movement, these boundaries keep her from providing much information about the movement in other cities or about its interaction with other civil rights movements.  The lack of this wider context is particularly evident with respect to the homophile movement’s emphasis on representation and assimilation.  I realize that the national stage is not the focus of her book, but stronger emphasis on connections to national movements (or even national media) could help the reader understand both the wider context her subjects would have had access to and the importance of investigating San Francisco’s bar-based culture.  

Despite these issues, Wide Open Town reads as a well-researched, well-thought-out book, and I really enjoyed Boyd’s analysis of a movement I previously knew little about.  And despite its relative disconnect from other social movements, the book does relate to several other works.  In its organization and methodological complexity, it bears a strong resemblance to Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization, which is not surprising as both authors had Mari Jo Buhle as their dissertation advisor.  In its carefully bounded scope and focus on letting the sources develop the narrative – not to mention its emphasis on the grassroots element of a social movement – it aligns closely with works like Clay Carson’s In Struggle.  And in political theory, it likely relates to many works, but the one book it consistently reminds me of is Chantal Mouffe’s The Democratic Paradox – not because Boyd advocates some abstract utopian political project, but because the tension Boyd sets up and resolves between bar-based and homophile cultures, where the bar-based communities want to be left alone to develop their own communities-in-themselves while the homophile societies speak in the assimilative language of individual civil rights, resonates so clearly with Mouffe’s concept of liberal democracy.  This book is an interesting contribution to the study of social movements, both in its subject matter and in its construction.

63: George Rogers Taylor’s The Transportation Revolution

In The Transportation Revolution, 1815-1860, George Rogers Taylor argues that transportation played a key role in the shift from a “colonially oriented economy” to a “national economy” by 1860 by facilitating the shift from an “extractive-commercial” economy to an industrial one.  Because the US is so vast, revolutions in transportation and communication were the only way to connect the country enough to facilitate the massive growth in the later decades of the 19th century.

This book was published in 1951, and it provides a clear, readable survey of the development of the various transportation networks in the US.  Taylor builds his history out of histories of the various transportation modes, economic data from government sources, photos from Culver and other readily accessible archives, and detailed tables that piece together the costs associated with building roads, canals, steamboats, and railroads, with an eye toward the rather substantial federal subsidies that went into transportation in the 19th century.  He also integrates economic history, labor history, and discussions of industrialization and urbanization, so that transportation development occurs within its larger social, geographic, and economic contexts.

Taylor’s layered, chronological narrative clearly periodizes the transportation revolution.  It traces mercantile capitalism, the mostly privately-funded early road-building initiatives; the more expensive state-funded canals; the relatively low-capital but highly-regulated steamboat industry; the increasing corruption of railroads; and the rather fascinating story of the development of the merchant marine from small ships to clippers to packets and steamers.  Throughout his narrative, Taylor “follows the money,” and as he moves slowly through increasingly capital-intensive transportation modes he is careful both to tabulate relative costs (of shipping by one mode versus another, or of building one mode versus another) to show the increased cooperation between business and state that went into building them and to rationalize shifts in consumer choice.  He then links transportation to different components of an emergent industrial capitalism, particularly proletarianization, which he links to the new mass markets for standardized goods made accessible by improvements in transportation.  He also shows how decreased over-land shipping costs and the growing network of Western markets shifted the focus in east cost cities from the wharves to the tracks in this time period, as well as how low costs and high speeds facilitated regional specializations.

Most importantly for American Studies – he shows how this new transportation network ultimately knit together a new nation, united geographically under a new industrial capitalism and an emergent mass market. While this book probably needs to be more critical of this process (if only to inquire what happened to the displaced Native Americans and the slaves and immigrants who built the railroads, for instance, or to investigate the environmental impact of the transportation revolution), it still provides an interesting history of technology, geography, and economics of the development of transportation in the early 19th century.

57: Drew McCoy’s The Elusive Republic

In The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America, Drew McCoy investigates the fierce debates among the Revolutionary generation regard the best economic structure for the new American Republic; the “elusive” republic is the one that could chart a middle stage of social development between Jeffersonian agriculture and Hamiltonian industrialization.  He situates political economy, which at that time was a combination of political science, sociology, and economics and was considered a practical subject for statecraft, within a larger Republican ideology intent on developing the American economy in line with Republican ideals.  I’m pretty sure his main innovation is to complicate the old Jefferson-Hamilton debate by suggesting that the elusive republic would have required freezing time, and, by extension, to show that Republicanism itself, if attached to these time-freezing economic policies, was also ill-fated.  Whew.

According to McCoy, who focuses primarily on the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and especially James Madison, 18th century political economy developed in two different directions regarding commercial growth: the Ben Franklin/ Rousseau skepticism of all commerce and the Hamilton/ Barnard Mandeville embrace of the market and human selfishness.  Most American political economists were somewhere in the middle, and McCoy explores their thought regarding this middle path.  Apparently, at this time there were three different ways they thought American could develop:

  • as a primitive or Spartan economy, with self-sufficient agriculture and no commerce or luxuries
  • as a mid-level economy, with widespread property ownership, sophisticated agriculture, household manufacturing, and just enough trade to exchange American raw produce for refine European goods
  • as a mature economy, with a balance of commercial agriculture, large-scale manufacturing, class hierarchy, and both internal and external commerce.

Most “articulate Americans” (except Hamilton) thought that America was already in the middle stage and feared the onset of the mature stage, which would visit all the corruption of Europe on American society.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison therefore attempted to “freeze time” to keep America in the middle stage.  Believing in the inevitability of growth and wanting to channel that growth into farming instead of manufacturing, Jefferson and Madison shifted their focus to an “expansion across space rather than development through time” – and thus westward expansion had its roots in a Jeffersonian desire to freeze American economic development and keep the nation from industrializing and becoming corrupt like Europe.

While this book doesn’t prove in any way that the entire Revolutionary generation espoused this project to annihilate time through space and thus preserve a Republican culture, and it only vaguely defines political economy, it does, perhaps, provide a rationale for westward expansion and imperialism in the name of preserving American republican ideals.  That the Revolutionary generation thought America was exceptional in its perfect economic state right when slavery was expanding and the nation was displacing Native Americans is indicative of the contradictions at the heart of American culture.

55: Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul

In Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, Walter Johnson details the large slave market in antebellum New Orleans from 1830-1860 in an exploration of the cultural implications of turning human beings into property.  In doing so, he illustrates how slave markets, and particularly the point of sale, spatialized and embodied dynamics of race, economics, and power.  He argues that these markets were central to the construction of Southern culture because they highlight the central contradiction of antebellum slavery.

To reconstruct the internal dynamics of the slave market, Johnson studies a wide range of sources, including slaveholders’ letters, acts of sale, records of the Louisiana Supreme Court, letters, diaries, business records, and narratives of escaped slaves, all in pursuit of the “experience” of slavery, the market, and the sale.  The result is a book structured around the point of sale and the asymmetrical relationships among the three parties involved: the slave, the slave holder, and the trader.  All three approached this point using various forms of resistance, manipulation, and negotiation, and all are situated in the pens, offices, and selling blocks of the market.

The crucial thing here is that Johnson clearly portrays the agency and potential for resistance of all three parties, including the slaves, and he reconstructs the worlds of all three, including the spaces – pens, boardinghouses, and plantations – in which they live and encounter one another.  Like the new social historians of slavery and labor, Johnson is very much interested in the world as it was lived and perceived by each group; building on their work, he also explores the shifting power relationships and negotiations among them.  He concludes that transforming people into property had broad cultural implications for all three groups: planters’ perceived superiority lies in their ability to judge and get a good price on the bodies of slaves; slaves balanced the knowledge that they could be sold at any moment with a desire to build community, even in the pens; traders come to see the slaves as the commodities that hold their community together, rather than as people.

And no one liked the space of the market itself (save maybe the traders, who apparently merrily ate their lunches together there) – to the planters, it smacked of grubby commercialism, and to the slaves, it smelled of fear and filth.  Although focusing on New Orleans does force Johnson to exclude other markets, it does allow him to drill down into a particular time and place.  And the guilt, distaste, fear and brute indifference of that place are harrowing.  It’s no wonder that it was destroyed soon after the Civil War – but I do think it’s important to resurrect it here.