Quebec Studies

Bricks in the Making of Race and Place: Excavating a Lieu de Souvenir in New Orleans

Quebec Studies (2020), 70, (1), 7–32.

Abstract

This essay facilitates a multi-dimensional immersion into the life and rhythms of New Orleans, an entrée to the past that equips us to better understand the present and, from there, critically and creatively to envision our possible futures together. We explore the Faubourg Tremé by traversing layers of its lieux de souvenir - places of remembering, a concept inspired by but distinct from Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire - across three time periods. Each lieu de souvenir we visit from 1720 to the present will highlight material and symbolic foundations in Tremé that help us to understand key aspects of New Orleans’s past and present. The object that will guide our travel and meditation through each layer is the lowly but highly serviceable brick. At a purely material level, bricks are the literal building blocks of the city. Roads were paved with them and homes and other buildings were constructed with bricks as well. And at a symbolic level, bricks carry multiple rich and complex significations: Who makes them? How does their manufacturing shape the lives of the laborers who create them? Who buys them, and who profits from their sale? Tracing the brick and its uses throughout each lieu de souvenir sheds light on key social relationships, inequalities, and cultural practices that form the foundation of New Orleans’s past and present.

Cet essai facilite une immersion multidimensionnelle dans la vie et les rythmes de La Nouvelle-Orléans, une entrée dans le passé qui nous prépare à mieux comprendre le présent et, de ce point de départ, à envisager d’une manière tant critique que créatrice nos avenirs possibles ensemble. Nous explorons le Faubourg Tremé en traversant les couches de ses lieux de souvenir - concept inspiré de mais distinct des lieux de mémoire de Pierre Nora - à travers trois périodes. Chaque lieu de souvenir que nous visiterons depuis 1720 jusqu’au présent souligne les fondations matérielles et symboliques de Tremé, fondations qui nous aident à comprendre des aspects clés du présent et du passé de La Nouvelle-Orléans. L’objet qui guidera notre voyage et méditation à travers chaque couche est la brique, un article humble mais infiniment utile. Au niveau purement matériel, les briques sont la matière de la construction physique de la ville. Les rues en sont pavées et les maisons et les autres bâtiments en sont construits. Au niveau symbolique, la brique porte de multiples significations riches et complexes: Qui les fabrique? Quelle est l’influence de leur manufacture sur la vie des ouvriers qui les fabriquent? Qui en achète et qui en profite de la vente? Tracer la brique et son usage à travers chaque lieu de souvenir met en lumière les rapports sociaux, les inégalités et les pratiques culturelles essentielles à la fondation du passé et du présent de La Nouvelle-Orléans.

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Parham, Angel Adams