Current Projects

I have several ongoing writing and research projects, some of which developed out of my four years of research for Building the Land of Dreams, others of which originated from completely different places.

One of the main threads that drew me into New Orleans history was the discovery of the Papers of Edward Livingston in Princeton University’s Rare Books and Special Collections. In fact the initial core of my research was the project of reading all 143 boxes of Livingston’s lifetime correspondence over the course of 18 months. I learned far more about the fascinating Livingston than I could possibly fit in the first book, which is why one of my future projects is a thorough biography of this simultaneously admirable and disturbing figure who tells us so much about the political world of the early republic.

With Sean Wilentz as my Ph. D. advisor it is no surprise that I am fascinated with political history — and the political history of the Jeffersonian period above all. But I find that much of what has been written about this topic treats it in an unconscionably present-minded way. My planned book on the struggles of Federalists and Jeffersonians will go beyond the traditional accounts (such as Elkins and McKitrick’s seminal Age of Federalism) and, springboarding from Walter Lippmann’s famous observation that most political participants are reacting to a set of “pictures in their heads,” explore the conflicting mentalités of politics in the early republic — in an era when the French Revolution and global war created a more hostile, adversarial brand of political combat that anything in today’s world.

The notorious figure of Madame LaLaurie is a staple of New Orleans history and tourism, and a Grand Guignol legend of the bloody terror of Louisiana slavery (especially now that Kathy Bates has memorably portrayed her in American Horror Story). My planned article on the real Madame LaLaurie will place the episode in the context of the year 1834, a crucial year of urban violence across the United States, and ask how her story relates to the volatile blend of abolitionism, immigration, class conflict, and religious ferment that characterized Jacksonian America.

I spent fifteen years in the music business, and now find myself teaching students about it — both its history and its rapid changes in the present — in Loyola’s Music Industry Studies program. I also developed a history course at Loyola, reflecting my longtime interest in economic history, on the Rise of Global Capitalism. All of these experiences have given birth to a book project: Soundtrack of Capitalism: The Business of Music in America from Edison to iTunes. The idea is to synthesize both scholarly and popular writings about various aspects of the industry into a coherent overall history, and to anchor that history with a rigorous interpretation of the development of American capitalism and its effects on culture, commerce, and creativity.

For more information on these and other writing projects, and news about publications, please visit my blog, Crescent City Confidential.