Wetland Americas: Mapping a Literary History of New Orleans

Matthew Suazo
UC Santa Cruz

In the 18th and 19th centuries, knowledge of the Americas proliferated as printed materials circulated around the Atlantic. With focus on a selection of texts and translations related to Louisiana, this dissertation links New World settlement to the emergence of “the wetlands” as a category of nature and culture. The map for this project centers on New Orleans, a city whose strategic geographic situation has historically overshadowed its impracticable, swampy site. The research is guided by the event of Hurricane Katrina, and Suazo argues for the long-term place of wetlands landscapes in understanding the racial and economic divide made apparent in the flood that followed the storm. For New Orleans, the hurricane did not cause environmental and social crisis as much as it revealed its preconditions, and the United States, through the lens of a local catastrophe, saw its history come into a sharper global focus. Though Literature and American Studies scholars have responded with care to each of these crises, less has been said about them as products of the same postcolonial history. By returning to the colonial era, Suazo’s account recognizes the enduring entanglement of environmental and social concerns; and, by embedding the post-Katrina present within the life of the wetlands (marked by periodic returns to mud and water), Suazo reads it not as a rupture of the U.S. national narrative but, instead, as a moment continuous with a broader, hemispheric history of the Americas.