Dr. Christina Vella, professor of history, is available for lectures at academic conferences, conventions, tour groups, and gatherings of people interested in Louisiana history and other topics. See below for a list of suggested lectures.
TOPICS IN LOUISIANA AND U.S. HISTORY
'BEAST BUTLER,' OCCUPIER OF NEW ORLEANS DURING THE CIVIL WAR Was he a crook, an amazing reformer, or both?
WOMEN SOLDIERS OF THE CIVIL WAR - Hundreds of women disguised themselves as men and fought in both the Northern and Southern armies. One even received a Union pension. How and why did they do it? The lecture describes the career of one documented example, a woman soldier from New Orleans.
THE BARONESS PONTALBA'S SCANDAL - The Baroness Pontalba and her father, Almonester, made Jackson Square one of the loveliest architectural complexes in America. This is the true story of why and how the Baroness' father-in-law shot her four times and then killed himself.
FEVERS AND LEECHES - Diseases and treatments in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
THE CHARITY HOSPITAL OF LOUISIANA - Treatments, rules, menus, management of diseases in the colonies. Includes a discussion of the Lepers' Hospital and diseases of the New World.
THE CAPITAL OF MILDEW AND MALARIA - Hygiene and sanitation in New Orleans and typical cities of the New World in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when people threw their garbage into the street to be "purified" by the air.
DOROTHY DIX: THE WORLD BROUGHT HER ITS SECRETS - Long before Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren, Dorothy Dix's advice column was carried all over the world. She served as a crime reporter for the Hearst newspapers, and became well known as an investigator of macabre murders, all the while maintaining an advice column that she began in the 1890s from her home in New Orleans and was syndicated world-wide until the 1950s.
SPANISH NEW ORLEANS: ITS CHARACTER AND ITS CHARACTERS - A discussion of Don Andres Almonester, a notary, builder, and magistrate, the sponsor of the Cabildo, Presbytere and St. Louis Cathedral, a man who might be called His Lordship the Unloved.
NEW ORLEANS IN 1850 - The courts, schools, textbooks and newspapers were in two languages. Wild dogs swept in packs across the business district, and the most popular entertainment for everyone — black, white, aristocrat and servant — was opera.
THE PLANTATION SYSTEM - Daily life on a Louisiana sugar plantation in 1850 for the slaves and the planter: house slaves, field workers, and overseers. Compares the slave system in Louisiana with the rest of the South.
AMERICANS IN THE CREOLE CITY - A brief social history of Louisiana as first a French, then a Spanish colony, before it became part of the United States. What did the Americans find when they poured into New Orleans in the nineteenth century?
THE PONTALBA BUILDINGS, INSIDE AND OUT - An architectural discussion of New Orleans' famous Jackson Square and how the "mail-order buildings" were raised.
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER: WHAT IT HAS MEANT TO THE U.S. AND NEW ORLEANS
OPERA AND SOAP OPERA: JENNY LIND IN NEW ORLEANS - A discussion of music in New Orleans when it was the nation's center of opera.
YELLOW FEVER AND CHOLERA: THE TWIN KILLERS OF THE 19TH CENTURY - In the 1853 epidemics, even the gravediggers left New Orleans or died. Mule wagons collected the dead that had been put out for pickup, and then dumped them in shallow mass graves...
JOHN McDONOGH: LIAR AND PHILANTHROPIST - The life of the 19th century millionaire eccentric who bequeathed one of the nation's first public school systems to New Orleans, along with orphanages in Baltimore and a colony for his freed slaves in Africa.
THE QUADROON CONCUBINES OF NEW ORLEANS - And a discussion of free people of color in Louisiana and the South.
DEGAS AND NEW ORLEANS - Degas' notions of the city were far from what he found when he arrived during the last years of Reconstruction. The lecture also describes the dramatic stories of the people who served as models for "The Cotton Office in New Orleans" and a discussion of exactly what the people in the picture are doing. Illustrated with Degas' paintings originating in New Orleans.
HURRICANE KATRINA - The story of two survivors and a description of the city in the aftermath of the flood.
THE HISTORY OF STEAMBOATING - At a time when all the major thoroughfares were water, steamboats provided the most practical transportation and communication for much the country. From the shantyboats, bringing toothpullers, astrologers, letter-writers, and minstrels to isolated towns, to the paddle-wheeled floating palaces of the 1850s, with their gambling, lavish menus, and dangerous racing, the history of steamboats reflects the history of American settlement.
USING PRIMARY DOCUMENTS - A discussion of indentured servants using samples of real indenture contracts. How to find and interpret original documents in history.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF NAPOLEON I - How he loved — his relationships with his wives, children, step-children, mistresses, and his sordid family; his sicknesses; and his intimate life as Emperor and as exile on St. Helena. Was Napoleon poisoned?
TALLEYRAND - His remarkable career through the French Revolution, Napoleon, the Bourbon Restoration, and beyond.
PARIS IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY - From the bohemians, water porters, and child prostitutes to the bourgeoisie and trend-setters: the sights, sounds, and smells of the world's most fabulous city.
DAILY LIFE IN FRANCE UNDER NAPOLEON III - What life was like in the world's most famous city, upstairs and downstairs in the mansions of the faubourgs.
INTIMACY AND MORE - Love and matrimony in the 19th century using the love and hate letters of five couples.
A SEPARATION OF BODY AND BELONGINGS - Domestic law and civil procedure in the 19th century in Louisiana and France (where divorce was not legal), using court trials as examples.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS IN THE 19TH CENTURY - Business practices, banking, and notable scams. Credit was available to everyone; banks opened at 8 and shops at 7…
THE HOTEL PONTALBA - A description of the mansion that is now the U.S., Embassy residence in Paris, and a discussion of life and social customs in Paris when the house was constructed in 1839.
INDECENT SECRETS AND THE ITALY OF 1905 - The Murri murder, Europe's trial of the century, involving adultery, incest, and the polarization of Italian public opinion, is a riveting case that allows us to examine society in Venice and Bologna from the perspective of the aristocrats and starvelings who were involved in the conspiracy. Linda Murri, called "The Enchantress," incited four men desperately in love with her to dispose of her husband. Or she was the tragic victim of a hostile, frenzied press?
TRYING TO ARRIVE - The Italian immigrants of 1900. Why and how they left; how they lived in America; and why they stayed.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KIDS? - Famous people who were executed left behind families in great hardship. We discuss the widow of Antoine Lavoisier, the chemist; the children of Napoleon’s Marshal Ney; the murder-suicide case of the Duke and Duchess of Choiseau-Praslin; and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who died naturally, but left behind three tragically unhappy Marx daughters.
TOPICS IN LITERATURE
JAMES JOYCE'S ULYSSES - An analysis of one of the most difficult and delightful works of modern literature. Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness work was banned in many countries until 1950, yet now in the English-speaking world, Leopold and Molly Bloom are the household gods of love, sex, infidelity, and the remarkable richness of ordinary life and thought.
THE SOUTHERN LIGHTS - The life and works of Truman Capote, Tennessee
Williams, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Dix.
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES - A discussion of the life and times of Cervantes and a close look at his lovable heroes, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. What was Cervantes trying to tell us in his gentle satire?
WILLIAM FAULKNER - The Sound and the Fury is, as Faulkner described it, “a tale told by an idiot.” As I Lay Dying is told by a corpse, along with 15 other narrators. But far from “signifying nothing,” Faulkner’s two most difficult works established him as one of a handful of the greatest writers of his century. We will try to understand what all the fuss was about regarding these two masterpieces.
MELVILLE AND THE WHALE - Moby Dick is arguably The Great American Novel and certainly the most original work of the 19th century. We try to interpret Captain Ahab’s obsession, the persistence of the whale, and the reporting of the narrator, Ishmael, along with enjoying Melville’s great adventure story.
THE CLASSICS: ARE THEY WORTH THE EFFORT? A lighthearted but thoughtful
discussion of great works of literature, biography, and history with a big
handout list of favorites.
'READER, I DIDN'T MARRY HIM' - a discussion of Charlotte Brontë, Emily
Brontë, Mary Shelley, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Jane Austen,
their life and times.
WORLD WAR II
RESISTING HITLER - The occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1939 to 1945 created countless martyrs and a few heroes. How did people join a resistance movement? What did they do? Why? Was any of it effective against the German war machine? This is a detailed discussion of the resistance in occupied Europe, based on resistance memoirs.
THE TALLEYRAND RESIDENCE AND THE MARSHALL PLAN - The U.S. State Department has recently renovated the magnificent Talleyrand mansion on Place de la Concorde, site of the Marshall Plan headquarters. The lecture describes the mansion, originally built in the 1700s by one of Louis XV's ministers, and describes the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine was set up during the French Revolution. The talk focuses on the career of Talleyrand and on the Marshall Plan that was inaugurated after WWII.
THE MIDDLE EAST
SALMAN RUSHDIE AND THE SATANIC VERSES - The book they love to hate.
UNVEILING ISTANBUL - A discussion of the Ottoman Empire, the revolution that banished the Sultan, and the modernization of a whole society during the drastic reforms of Kemal Ataturk.
SAINTS AND SINNERS OF THE 19th CENTURY - Each lecture focuses on the life and times of an individual who made a significant impact on American society during the 19th century. The 13 lives include Louisa May Alcott, the author; Dorothea Dix, the reformer of prisons and asylums; and Noah Webster, who gave us an American language. Complete list available.
HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE 20th CENTURY - Each lecture deals with the life and times of one individual whose work helped create the American identity. The subjects include George Washington Carver, Henry Ford, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Spock, Norman Rockwell, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and 11 others. Complete list available.
EUROPEAN LIVES SERIES - Each of the 13 lectures focuses on the life and work of one individual of the 19th and 20th centuries. Lives include Claude Monet, Sigmund Freud, Peter Illych Tchaikovsky, Pablo Picasso, and Albert Einstein.
VICTORIAN LIFE AND VICTORIAN LIVES
— Jane Austen: Drawing Room Society Just Before Victoria
— The Industrial Revolution
— Victorian Marriage in Law and in Life
— Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England
— Crime and Punishment in 19th Century Great Britain
— The Irish Famine
— Domestic Servants: The Upstairs and Downstairs of the Class System
— Morality, Prostitution, and Pornography
— Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - The Idealization of the Family
— Oscar Wilde: The Outing of a Great Writer
— Joseph Lister: Hygiene in the World Before Germs
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Neurotic as Poet of an Age
— Charles Dickens: Exposing Real Social Evils in Fiction
— The Brontë Sisters: Geniuses Forced to “Go Out to Service”
— George Eliot: Love and Marriage Among the Gentry