Historians Put Katrina into Perspective





On March 7-10, 2007 more than twenty scholars from history and related disciplines gathered in Mobile, Alabama, to participate in a conference on the historical meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Sponsored by the Journal of American History in conjunction with the Department of History at the University of South Alabama, the three-day program entitled, “Through the Eye of Katrina: The Past as Prologue?” was part of the ongoing Howard Mahan lecture and symposium series supported by the University of South Alabama Foundation.

Lawrence N. Powell of Tulane University delivered the meeting’s keynote address in which he examined the hurricane’s national significance. Powell argued that the Katrina debacle had the potential to become what the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. called a “detonating event,” an occurrence that might help usher in a shift toward a more liberal political consciousness after a generation of conservative emphasis on private initiative and limited government. Citing evidence of growing impatience with free market approaches to the Gulf Coast disaster, Powell stressed the need for historians to adopt a national perspective that would set Katrina’s aftermath within the context of a larger cluster of post-9/11 anxieties and discontents. This theme was taken up by a number of other panelists during discussions and in the symposium’s concluding roundtable session, which will be available on the JAH website in December.

In addition to Powell’s lecture, the symposium featured eighteen papers grouped under several broad topical headings ....


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