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Teaching #NOLA: Mardi Gras Indians

I spent some time at Mardi Gras Indians practice this research trip. I didn’t shoot video while there, but I did find this on YouTube:

Next year, I’ll be teaching another course on New Orleans. I’m working on how to bring Mardi Gras Indian society and Gulf Coast black-Native American history into the course material.

It is one thing, an important thing, to start a conversation with students about the Mardi Gras Indians in a cultural context where HBO’s Tremé is incredibly popular and where black-Native American relations, past or present, are complex.  It is another thing to walk students through Mardi Gras Indians history and culture from an Afro-Atlantic perspective where the practice space becomes a bembé and the battle a possession.

With the first, they need to learn visual literacy alongside historical narrative.  To accomplish the second, I need to introduce my students to historical narrative(s) and present-day cultural institutions beyond the boundaries of the city and teach them to draw responsible connections across time and place.  As a class, we’ll also need to discuss institution-building as a key feature of black life in the Americas across time periods.

The architecture of the lesson might look something like this:

  • Skills
    • Visual literacy (skill)
    • Historical thinking (skill)
    • Performance theory (skill)
    • Draw responsible connections across time and place (skill)
  • Content
    • Mardi Gras Indians and Gulf Coast black-Native American historical narratives, national (content)
    • Non-national historical narrative(s) (content)
    • Present-day cultural institutions beyond the boundaries of the city (content)
  • Argument/Assumption
    • Institution-building as a key feature of black life in the Americas across time periods (argument/assumption)

These reflections are general because I’m also interested in what a template for a course written from an Afro-Atlantic perspective looks like. What is its basic structure? How would it need to be tweaked as lessons and courses change? Is everything I need here? Could this work across each lesson?

If you have suggestions or critique, please pass them along. YR 2013-2014 is right around the corner.

Featured Image Credit: Anthony Posey, “zindianssupersunday2011 217” via Flickr.