Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Education

Document Type



In dominant narratives of the history of education in America, the icon of the American educated citizen has traditionally been rooted in Jeffersonian Democracy, eventually taking shape in the Northern, Anglo-Protestant, Common School Movement in which the availability and acceptance of state-supported public education was a key measure of democratic progress. Within the institution of common schools, individuals were taught how to participate in a democratic society.

This dissertation reimagines the dominant narrative by suggesting that the multiethnic and multilingual nature of New Orleans, which some early American leaders had framed as discordant and disorderly, was vital to constructing an alternative understanding of democracy. The transatlantic environment of Louisiana and the creolization process that was a part of that environment were instrumental in fostering a public democratic culture which developed outside of formal schools and which was not contingent upon the political rights of national citizenship. Instead, democracy was a matter of public rights which were nurtured through the transatlantic entanglements and everyday practices in public spaces. Public rights, the right to be treated with dignity and respect in public places, are seen in contrast to political rights, which are guaranteed by law. Tracing the history of three early nineteenth-century coffee-houses in New Orleans, the author argues that the everyday practices within these establishments facilitated a public intellectual culture for everyone who entered. Additionally, the author argues that everyday practices in these coffee-houses made public rights possible for people on the margins of society, most notably, slaves, free people of color, and women. These groups were typically denied their rights to public culture by formal republican institutions. Through the interactions which occurred in these coffee-house spaces, these groups developed tactics to circumvent the government and institutional strategies designed to control them.



Committee Chair

Hendry, Petra