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Date    12.6.05
Contact David Tisdale (601) 266-4499


HATTIESBURG – A University of Southern Mississippi history professor has received a fellowship to continue his research on the New Orleans flood of 1849, timely because of the similarities between the epic 19th century disaster and flooding of the city attributed to Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Greg O’Brien’s successful application proposal, “The Man Who Saved New Orleans: George Towers Dunbar and the New Orleans Flood of 1849,” earned him one of two inaugural Dianne Woest Fellowships in the Arts and Humanities granted this year by the Historic New Orleans Collection. The fellowship will fund a month’s study at the Collection’s Williams Research Center.

O’Brien’s research focuses on the role of engineer George Towers Dunbar in repairing city levees during the 1849 disaster, saving the city from further harm, as well as the political infighting that occurred in New Orleans as elected officials sparred over how to handle the crisis.

“As was exposed so dramatically with the Hurricane Katrina disaster, politics plays as much a role as nature in exacerbating or alleviating the harm of a so-called natural disaster,” O’Brien said. “New Orleans has had to deal with such problems since its founding, and my research suggests that little has been learned or remembered since 1849.”

Local, state and federal officials believe levees surrounding the city were compromised because of the storm, resulting in severe flood damage to many residential areas of the historic city.

“Nearly the exact same areas that flooded during Katrina also flooded in1849, the difference being that many more people lived in those flood-prone areas in 2005,” O’Brien said.

Officials at the Historic New Orleans Collection believe research funded by the fellowships can help revitalize the city and region following Hurricane Katrina by promoting the area’s history and culture.

“The Woest Fellowship is an indication of The Historic New Orleans Collection commitment to furthering historical studies of the region,” said Alfred Lemmons, director of the Williams Research Center. “Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that one of the first recipients (O’Brien) be from our region.”


About The University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at

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