At the Confluence of Science and Power: Water Struggles of New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century
Date of Award
College of Urban and Public Affairs
New Orleans failed to solve its water infrastructure problems in the nineteenth century because a shifting locus of power in a variable political and financial environment hampered wise decision making, while technology choices were limited by contemporary knowledge, scientists' ignorance, or by technicians' poor presentation skills for new ideas. And, selection was often governed by prejudice: personal, racial, or against technology. New Orleans was able to deal with its water difficulties only when those with the power to make or influence decisions had an available technology capable of handling the problem and they chose to use it. Power and science had to flow together. New Orleans' situation is excellent: a crossroads of trade, an entrepot for the agricultural heartland, the Mississippi River's premier port. And yet, the city's site is dreadful. New Orleans sits in a bowl of land rimmed by water, with the river and the brackish Lake Pontchartrain on either side, amid swampy environs in a hot and wet climate. This city exists only because of the complex system by which it deals with water. The conundrum of New Orleans lies at the confluence of science and power. Whoever holds the power can choose the science and technology with which New Orleans handles water, its everpresent best friend and worst enemy. From the colonial era to the twentieth century, the power to make those choices shifted from the private sector to the public sector and back, with the press and, eventually, women ultimately having influence. Under the fading Spanish empire, from the age of Jefferson to the era of Jacksonian democracy, during the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the dawn of Progressivism: New Orleans confronted the problems of flood prevention, drainage, the omni-present need for a dependable water source for its citizens, and eventually sewerage disposal. This study investigates how those problems were faced, what technology was used and how the work was financed; and also illuminates the lives of those who dealt with New Orleans and water during that time.
Kolb, Carolyn, "At the Confluence of Science and Power: Water Struggles of New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century" (2006). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 386.
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