Writing Local Reality: Katrina and the Digital Emergence of New Orleans

This presentation discusses how online representations of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster have shaped the city's subsequent coalescence. Mapping tools such as Google Maps and Google Earth and social sites including Craigslist were instrumental in the rescue of survivors. Yet these digital data networks are also inherently political. Google’s use of pre-Katrina topographical imagery has drawn criticism from those claiming that the company is misrepresenting reality to mask recovery failures. U.S. Representative Brad Miller went as far as to chastise Google for “airbrushing history,” leading Google to acknowledge on its official blog “the increasingly important role that imagery is coming to play in the public discourse.” This presentation utilizes Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map—a recent work chronicling how a cholera epidemic in 19th century London interacted with its visual representation—to examine how online entities such as Google, Craigslist, and blogs have shaped the physical spaces and tangible realities of post-Katrina New Orleans.