” Man, by his very nature, tends to give himself an explanation of the world into which he is born. And this is what distinguishes him from the other species. Every individual, even the least intelligent, the lowest of outcasts, from childhood on gives himself some explanation of the world. And with it he manages to live. And without it, he would sink into madness.”
— Elsa Morante (History: A Novel)

With a little more than three weeks until the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches, many of us in the region are taking time to consider the progress we have made as a city.

For anyone who wants a little knowledge with their brooding, the New Orleans Index at Five, issued today by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and The Brookings Institute, should be your reading of choice. The report opens with an economic timeline of the region. To look back at this two-page overview is to see the dramatic history of the region, from the founding of the Quarter in 1718, to the invention of the cotton gin and granulation of sugar in the later 18th century, “helping launch a plantation economy,” as the timeline puts it, marking one of many intersections of injustice and prosperity.

Other highlights of the timeline include the first publication of local cookbooks in 1865, and the (blessed) introduction of ice manufacturing in 1868. A century later, the turbulence of the 1960s shows in the simultaneous rise of the petroleum industry  and the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1966, the city sounds its first integrated cheers with the introduction of the region’s first NFL franchise.

New Orleanians excel at feeling alone in struggle, feeling exceptional. Among other things, this timeline reminds us that the churn of history, with all its painful injustices, sundry advances and occasional victories will march on. Saints Super Bowl keg tap, anyone?

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...