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The following activities will help students research the American tradition of cultural diversity and investigate its impact on the state of Louisiana as well as their own community.

Activity 1: Architectural Change
Read the following passage to students:

The noted American architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (architect of the U.S. Capitol) took up residence in New Orleans in 1819. When he arrived he was greatly impressed by the Creole character of the city, but noted regretfully the beginnings of an American influence: ‘The merchants from the old United States who are daily gaining ground on the manners, the habits, the opinions, and the domestic arrangements of the French, have already begun to introduce the lop-sided London house.’ Latrobe predicted: ‘In a few years, therefore, this will be an American town. What is good and bad in French manners...must give way, and the American notions of right and wrong, of convenience and inconvenience will take their place.’¹

Now have students look again at Photos 5 and 7. Ask them to review their list of differences in the two buildings. (The prominent features of the building in Photo 5 are the three-bay, three-arched openings on the first floor, multi-light french doors and fanlight transoms. The fourth door--on the left in the picture--is not typical. The building in Photo 7 shows the American influence, primarily in the Greek Revival detailing. Point out features such as the denticulated cornice and the recessed doorway with an entablature and wooden Doric pilasters. If the students are familiar with Greek Revival styles, they may wonder where the columns are. Explain that the Vieux Carré’s tight block pattern did not allow space for them.)

Ask the students if after viewing all the photographs, they think that Latrobe’s statement has come true. Does the Vieux Carré look "American"? Does it look like their home town? While American influences are evident, much of the Creole influence has survived, and the Vieux Carré has a balanced character. Ask students to suggest and discuss some reasons for the persistence of the Creole "look" of the Vieux Carré. (One reason was that when American stylistic influences began to be strongly felt in the 1830s, the area already had developed a tight block pattern, with deep and narrow lots oriented to rear courtyards. This existing development pattern helped determine the character of American development in the district. For instance, the wide central hall house, an American favorite, was almost unknown in the district. Likewise, the American practice of setting a house back from the street, to provide for a front yard, was rarely seen in the Vieux Carré. Buildings tended to conform to the streetscape already set by the Creole cottages and townhouses. Americans also continued the tradition of using cast-iron balconies and galleries to embellish their houses’ facades.)

Activity 2: Researching Creole Culture
Other aspects of Creole culture continue to be strongly felt in New Orleans and South Louisiana. Ask the students to research such topics as Creole cuisine (the cuisine of most of New Orleans’ famous restaurants), Mardi Gras, or jazz music. Another subject that students could research is Acadian, or Cajun, culture in south Louisiana. Acadians are descendants of the French who migrated to Acadia, now Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 1600s. Beginning in 1755, many were expelled from that area by the British, and some migrated into Louisiana in the next two or three decades. Their descendants in Louisiana today are often known as Cajuns (a corruption of "Acadian"), and live principally in rural areas of South Louisiana. Cajuns have retained many traditional aspects of their culture. Those not familiar with the region often confuse the terms "Cajun" and "Creole." Daily Life in Louisiana, 1815-1830, by Liliane Crete, as translated by Patrick Gregory (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1978) can provide more information on Creole culture. Background on Cajun life and culture can be found in two pamphlets published by the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Southwestern Louisiana: Carl Brasseaux, Scattered to the Winds: The Dispersal and Wanderings of the Acadians, 1755-1809 (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1991) and Barry Ancelet, Cajun Music: Its Origins and Development (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1989). Both of these pamphlets can be purchased from the Center for Louisiana Studies by contacting them at P.O. Box 40831, Lafayette, LA 70504.

Activity 3: The Local Community
Ask the students to examine their local community for evidence of diverse cultural groups. Are there buildings, customs, foods, etc., that can be identified with particular ethnic groups? Are those groups still living in the area today? Do they have a distinct identity today or have they blended into the larger population? Public libraries usually have local histories and copies of neighborhood surveys that will help guide the research. If you can take students on a walking tour of a nearby ethnic neighborhood or commercial area, arm them with sketch pads and cameras and have them record architectural details on houses, row or townhouses, apartment buildings, and commercial buildings. Ask them to look for evidence that indicates particular ethnic groups live or work there, now or in the past. Back in the classroom, have students point out differences between their local surroundings and the Vieux Carré.

Activity 4: Cultural Interaction
Ask students to consider what happens when two different cultural groups live side by side. What aspects of the neighboring culture is each group most likely to adopt, or at least try out (food, music, clothing styles)? What aspects of the neighboring culture are most likely to be resisted or rejected (religion is likely)? In what circumstances would one group feel culturally threatened by another (if one is much larger numerically, or has more political or economic power)? Ask students to think about the history of their community and write short papers describing the quality of ethnic relationships, both now and in the past. Discuss essays in class. If there is or has been considerable dissension among groups, have the students develop an action plan to alleviate tensions.

¹Division of Historic Preservation, State of Louisiana. "Vieux Carré Historic District" (Orleans Parish, LA) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service,1984, Section 8, p.1.

 

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