Skip to main content Accessibility help

From Upper Canal to Lower Manhattan: Memorialization and the Politics of Loss

  • Simon Stow (a1)


The New Orleans Katrina Memorial is located at the upper end of Canal Street, an inexpensive and relatively short trolley car ride from the city's tourist hub in the French Quarter. Despite its ease of access, and close proximity to the more famous cemeteries to which tourists regularly make pilgrimage, the memorial is little visited and largely unknown, even to many of the city's own residents. In this it stands in stark contrast to the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, which drew its millionth visitor less than four months after its opening on September 12, 2011. Recent work in political theory on memory, mourning, and memorialization—as well as Ancient Greek concerns about the same—point to the ways in which the manner of remembrance, grieving, and commemoration employed by a democratic polity help to shape political outcomes. In what follows, I trace the history and design of the New York City and New Orleans memorials to suggest the ways in which they embody and perpetuate national strategies of remembrance and forgetting, in which injustices perpetrated against the polity are prioritized over injustices perpetrated within it. Drawing on John Bodnar's distinction between national and vernacular commemoration, I nevertheless conclude with a counter-intuitive suggestion: that while on a national level the public's relative ignorance of the Katrina Memorial is indeed indicative of a polity more concerned with injustices perpetrated against it than within it; on a local level the erection and subsequent forgetting of the Katrina Memorial is a manifestation of a mode of vernacular memory, mourning and commemoration with far more democratically-productive potential than its counterpart in New York City. In particular, I argue that it cultivates, and historically has cultivated, a more forward-looking, progressive, and polyphonic response to loss than the type of dominant national narratives embodied by the 9/11 Memorial. Whereas the latter continually replays the loss in ways that rob the polity of its capacity to move beyond its initial response, the former acknowledges and incorporates the loss while steeling the community for the challenges ahead.



Hide All
9/11 Memorial. (, accessed February 16, 2012.
AP Archive. 2005. “White House Bush Interview with Diane Sawyer/GMA Bush ISO,” (September 1). (, accessed February 29, 2012.
Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Arts Council of New Orleans. (, accessed April 3, 2012.
Baker, Al. 2012. “At 9/11 Memorial, Police Raise Fear of Suicides.” The New York Times (February 15). (, accessed February 15, 2012.
Baker, Danny. 1992. Interview with Michael White. Smithsonian National Museum of American History, July 21–23. (, accessed February 12, 2012.
Barry, John. 1997. Rising Tide. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Bell, Derrick. 2006. “Foreword.” In After the Storm. Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina, ed. Troutt, David Dante. New York: The New Press.
Blight, David. 2001. Race and Reunion. The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Bodnar, John E. 1992. Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bohrer, Becky. 2007. “New Orleans Recovery Plans Calls for a Katrina Memorial on a Homeric Scale” USA Today (May 28). (, accessed January 28, 2012.
Booth, William James. 2006. Communities of Memory. On Witness, Identity, and Justice. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Brinkley, Douglas. 2006. The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New York: William Morrow.
Brothers, Thomas. 2006. Louis Armstrong's New Orleans. New York: W.W. Norton.
Burlingame, Debra. 2005. “The Great Ground Zero Heist.” The Wall Street Journal (June 7): A14.
Casimire, Rodney Omar. 2012. E-mail exchange with author, February 10–15.
Curtis, Jack. 2011. “David Lee; Building Community.” Color Magazine. (, accessed April 3, 2012.
Doss, Erika. 2010. Memorial Mania. Public Feeling in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Du Bois, W.E.B. 2008. The Souls of Black Folk. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor.
Dyson, Michael Eric. 2006. Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. New York: Basic Books.
Edkins, Jenny. 2003. Trauma and the Memory of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Edsall, Thomas B. 2005. “Bush Suspends Pay Act in Areas Hit by Storm.” The Washington Post (September 9). (, accessed April 5, 2012.
Funeral Service Foundation. “New Orleans Katrina Memorial.” (, accessed February 25, 2012.
Gilroy, Paul. 2010. Darker Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Glaude, Eddie Jr. 2000. Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Goodstein, Laurie. 2010. “Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition.” The New York Times (August 7). (, accessed February 18, 2012.
Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Honig, Bonnie. 2009. Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
International Freedom Center. 2004. “International Freedom Center Fact Sheet”. (, accessed February 16, 2012.
Isaac, Jeffrey C. 2003. The poverty of progressivism: The future of American democracy in a time of liberal decline. Lantham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Ishiwata, Eric. 2011. “‘We Are Seeing People We Didn't Know Exist’ Katrina and the Neoliberal Erasure of Race.” In The Neoliberal Deluge. Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans, ed. Johnson, Cedric. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Johnson, Cedric, ed. 2011a. The Neoliberal Deluge. Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Johnson, Cedric 2011b. “Introduction.” In The Neoliberal Deluge. Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans, ed. Johnson, Cedric. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Johnson, Cedric 2011c. “Charming Accommodations: Progressive Urbanism Meets Privatization in Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation.” In The Neoliberal Deluge. Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans, ed. Johnson, Cedric. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Johnston, Steven. 2007. The Truth About Patriotism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Johnston, Steven. 2012. “Animals in War: Commemoration, Patriotism, Death.” Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming.
Katrina National Memorial Park. (, accessed January 30, 2012. “National Katrina Museum.” (, accessed February 9, 2012.
Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador.
Kleinfeld, N.R. 2010. “Rider Asks if Cabby is Muslim, Then Stabs Him.” The New York Times (August 25). (, accessed February 18, 2012.
Klinenberg, Eric. 2003. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krüger-Kahloula, Angelika. 1994. “On the Wrong Side of the Fence: Racial Segregation in American Cemeteries.” In History and Memory in African American Culture, eds. Fabre, Geneviève and O'Meally, Robert. New York: Oxford University Press, 130–49.
Linnenthal, Edward T. 2001. The Unfinished Bombing. Oklahoma City in American Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Loraux, Nicole. 1998. Mothers in Mourning translated by Pache, Corinne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Loraux, Nicole. 2002. The Divided City: On Memory and Forgetting in Ancient Athens translated by Fort, Corrine Pache with Jeff. New York: Zone Books.
Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. 2002. “Memorial Mission Statement and Memorial Program.” (, accessed February 19, 2012.
Lowery, Joseph. 2006. “Remarks at a Peace March, Atlanta, GA, April 1, 2006.” (, accessed February 15, 2012.
MacCash, Doug. 2007. “New Orleans Katrina Memorial is Almost Perfect.” (February 14, 2007). (, accessed April 3, 2012.
Maggi, Laura. 2008. “Katrina dead interred at new memorial.” The Times-Picayune (August 29). (, accessed February 15, 2012.
Magnificent Seventh's Brass Band. 1992. Authentic New Orleans Jazz Funeral. Mardi Gras Records, Inc.
McGinity, Jo Craven. 2011. “As 9/11 Remains are Identified, Grief is Renewed.” The New York Times (November 12). (, accessed February 19, 2012.
Morris, Benjamin. 2009. “Hurricane Katrina and the arts of remembrance.” In Moment to Monument. The Making and Unmaking of Cultural Significance, eds. Lambert, Ladina Bezzola and Ochsner, Andrea. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag.
Morris, Benjamin. 2011. “The forgotten storm: The Hurricane Katrina Memorial.” Presented at 12thCambridge Heritage Seminar. The Heritage of Memorials and Commemorations, McDonald Institute for Archeological Research University of Cambridge, UK, April 15–16. (, accessed February 18, 2012.
Murphy, William. 2005. “Keeping focus on memorial; NY Representatives say Congress will act if Ground Zero project will include exhibits not related to 9/11.” Newsday (July 2). (, accessed February 15, 2012.
Muskal, Michael. 2011. “Tragedy and tourism: 9/11 memorial draws its millionth visitor.” Los Angeles Times (December 30). (, accessed February 14, 2012.
MySpace. (, accessed January 29, 2012.
New Orleans Forensic Center. (, accessed February 12, 2012.
New York Times. 2007. “Editorial: A Public Memorial.” (January 29). (, accessed February 15, 2012.
Ouroussoff, Nicolai. 2006. “The Ground Zero Memorial, Revised but Not Improved.” The New York Times (June 22). (, accessed February 15, 2012.
Pitkin, Hanna. 1998. The Attack of the Blob. Hannah Arendt's Concept of the Social. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Pool, Heather. 2012. “The Politics of Mourning: The Triangle Fire and Political Belonging.” Polity 44(2): 130.
Regis, Helen. 2001. “Blackness and the Politics of Memory in New Orleans.” American Ethnologist 28(4): 752777.
Shulman, George. 2008. American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Smith, Neil. 2006. “There's No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster.” Understanding Katrina. Perspectives from the Social Sciences. (, accessed March 1, 2012.
Stow, Simon. 2007. “Pericles at Gettysburg and Ground Zero: Tragedy, Patriotism, and Public Mourning.” American Political Science Review 101(2): 195208.
Stow, Simon. 2008a. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? George Bush, the Jazz Funeral, and the Politics of Memory.” Theory & Event 11(1).
Stow, Simon. 2008b. “Portraits 9/11/01: The New York Times and the Pornography of Grief.” In Literature After 9/11, eds. Quinn, Jeanne Follansbee and Keniston, Ann. New York: Routledge.
Stow, Simon. 2010. “Agonistic Homegoing: Frederick Douglass, Joseph Lowery, and the Democratic Value of African American Public Mourning.” American Political Science Review 104(4): 681697.
Strolovitch, Dara, Warren, Dorian, and Frymer, Paul. 2006. “Katrina's Political Roots and Divisions: Race, Class, and Federalism in American Politics.” Understanding Katrina. Perspectives from the Social Sciences. (, accessed April 5, 2012.
Sturken, Marita. 2002. “Memorializing Absence.” In Understanding September 11, eds. Calhoun, Craig, Price, Paul, and Timmer, Ashley. New York: W.W. Norton, 374384.
Sturken, Marita. 2007. Tourists of History. Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Thucydides. 1972. The History of the Peloponnesian War translated by Warner, Rex. London: Penguin Books.
Tuggle, Lindsay. 2011. “Encrypting Katrina: Traumatic Inscription and the Architecture of Amnesia.” In Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture 16: 6587. (, accessed February 14, 2012.
U.S. News & World Report. 2005. “Minority-Owned Firms Lag on Hurricane Contracts.” U.S. News & World Report (October 9). (, accessed April 4,5, 2012.
Van Dernoot Lipsky, Lindsay. 2010. Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring For Others. Sydney, Australia:
WDSU. 2009. “National Katrina Museum to Open on 5th Anniversary,” (August 30). (, accessed February 14, 2012.
West, Cornel. 1999. The Cornel West Reader. New York: Basic Books.
Wills, Garry. 1990. Under God: Religion and American Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Woods, Clyde. 2009. “Les Misérables of New Orleans: Trap Economics and the Asset Stripping Blues, Part I.” American Quarterly 61(3): 769796.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

From Upper Canal to Lower Manhattan: Memorialization and the Politics of Loss

  • Simon Stow (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.