Two hundred years after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to limn the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase, demonstrating its seamlessness with the national body in direct travel to the West Coast, a different kind of travel narrative—one that demonstrated New Orleans’s profound discontinuity from the United States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—dominated the national conversation about the city’s suffering and recovery. This paper seeks to examine what Barbara Eckstein calls “claims for New Orleans’s exceptionalism,” considering theorizations of the city’s uniqueness as products of terror at the abandonment of national amity and the evacuation of the category of citizenship. It adumbrates a history of New Orleans’s exceptionalism through Frederick Law Olmsted’s A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), considering the ways that African American women’s bodies become signifiers of disorder and potential in the city, as well as aberrations from economic norms of enslavement in the Upper South.

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