Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jean Lafitte: Original Gangster

I recently discovered a shirt. A shirt, in fact, that I love.
T-shirt design from Dirty Coast in New Orleans
If you know me personally, you know that I have had a fascination with all-things-pirate lore. If you know me professionally, you know that I have spent much time figuring out how to engage the public with "difficult" history. Slavery. Civil rights. War. I now work at a national park named after a thieving, murdering, pillaging, slave-smuggling pirate.

A challenge I have faced in my short time at this park has been bridging the gap between myth and history regarding Jean Lafitte. He's a pirate! Contemporary memories of pirates include quirky quotes about the disappearance of rum. Pirates, especially those that lived during the "Golden Age of Piracy," have levels of romanticism, mystery, and legends associated with them. Jean Lafitte's lore, especially in south Louisiana, seamlessly exists with the histories of the area. Hence the T-shirt produced by a New Orleans-based design company.

My professional self and personal self had a minor battle over this shirt until a comrade of mine offered a suggestion. "Why don't you research and write about pop culture's impact on the memory of Jean Lafitte and the difficulty of presenting history?" Brilliance. So I have found my new project, one that has been in the making for a while, and now I don't feel guilty about buying (yet another) pirate shirt.

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