Building the Devil's Empire
French Colonial New Orleans
By Shannon Lee Dawdy
(University Of Chicago Press, Paperback, 9780226138428, 344pp.)
Publication Date: September 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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Building the Devil’s Empire is the first comprehensive history of New Orleans’s early years, tracing the town’s development from its origins in 1718 to its revolt against Spanish rule in 1768. Shannon Lee Dawdy’s picaresque account of New Orleans’s wild youth features a cast of strong-willed captives, thin-skinned nobles, sharp-tongued women, and carousing travelers. But she also widens her lens to reveal the port city’s global significance, examining its role in the French Empire and the Caribbean, and she concludes that by exemplifying a kind of rogue colonialism—where governments, outlaws, and capitalism become entwined—New Orleans should prompt us to reconsider our notions of how colonialism works.
"[A] penetrating study of the colony's founding."—Nation
“A brilliant and spirited reinterpretation of the emergence of French New Orleans. Dawdy leads us deep into the daily life of the city, and along the many paths that connected it to France, the North American interior, and the Greater Caribbean. A major contribution to our understanding of the history of the Americas and of the French Atlantic, the work is also a model of interdisciplinary research and analysis, skillfully bringing together archival research, archaeology, and literary analysis.”—Laurent Dubois, Duke University
Shannon Lee Dawdy is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago and coeditor of Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology.
“A brilliant and spirited reinterpretation of the emergence of French New Orleans. Dawdy leads us deep into the daily life of the city, and along the many paths that connected it to France, the North American interior, and the Greater Caribbean. A major contribution to our understanding of the history of the Americas and of the French Atlantic, the work is also a model of interdisciplinary research and analysis, skillfully bringing together archival research, archaeology, and literary analysis.”
-Laurent Dubois, Duke University
“Nowadays it is rare to come across an academic monograph that combines literary verve and analytical virtuosity, and rarer still to find it in a book that straddles history and archeology. Shannon Lee Dawdy’s immensely sophisticated study of French Louisiana—the first full-length treatment since World War One—defies easy categorization. Hers is more than a rollicking tale of how rogues, creoles, and utopian planners from three continents conjured from the mud one of the Atlantic World’s quirkiest communities. Building the Devil’s Empire is also a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of colonialism, revolution, and liberal capitalism near the dawn of the modern age. The book is a tour de force.”
-Lawrence N. Powell, Tulane University
“Dawdy’s research is thorough and imaginative, and her argument persuasive and important. As the literature on colonial Louisiana grows and improves, Dawdy’s work raises the historical study of New Orleans to an even higher standard and promises to influence future lines of inquiry. In this ambitious and appealing book, she cleverly turns what has made New Orleans marginal to the writing of colonial history—its reputation for disorder and failure—into the essential challenge for understanding the city’s significance.”
-Daniel H. Usner Jr., Vanderbilt University
"By untangling myths, Dawdy has left us all with a richer inheritance. . . . Good history contains surprises, of which there are an abundance in this eye-popping yet scholarly book. And it has some cool color illustrations, too."
"[A] penetrating study of the colony's founding."
“This book is highly useful for developing an understanding not only of New Orleans, but also of the history of the Caribbean world during the colonial period.”
"The author, trained in historical archaeology and anthropology, provides often-remarkable insights into the ethos and daily lives of the people of New Orleans, while putting this unique society into a larger context of colonial dynamics and structure. . . . Historians have paid surprisingly little attention to this fascinating period, and this book is most welcome."
-John T. McGrath
"In delightfully diverse ways, [the author] explores the themes of imperial design, creole improvisation, and rogue colonialism. . . . Dawdy's book furnishes a model of interdisciplinary research, bringing to the task the tools of archaeology, ethnography, literary analysis, and archival research, all the while vigorously engaging with the secondary and the theoretical literature. . . .Engagingly written, beautifully illustrated, flawlessly edited, and reasonably priced."
-Richmond F. Brown
"Employing a vibrant style, Dawdy animates a painstakingly woven social, cultural, and economic tapestry of the history of French Louisiana, one that deserves to hang in a place of honor in the years to come."