Click the sections to watch an interview with Julia Gaffield. Also, read the article "Julia's Discovery" below.
Louis Pasteur's famous comment that "chance favors the prepared mind" helps explain how Julia Gaffield discovered the only known original printed copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence.
A 26-year-old Canadian native, Gaffield first became interested in Haiti in 2004 as an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. That year, Haiti's then-president Jean-Bertrande Aristide was ousted, which Gaffield found intriguing when she learned about it in a Caribbean history class. Her interest in Haiti grew when she volunteered there to help at-risk youth.
"I have been studying Haiti ever since," she says. "It's a difficult place to go logistically, and also emotionally. But there's another side to Haiti that no one ever talks about the everyday stuff. There's art on almost all the walls. Everything is painted beautifully. They don't have much, but what they have is well cared for. The people are lovely, helpful, kind, warm, generous, and the country also has an amazing history. "
After completing a master's degree in history at York University in Toronto, Gaffield came to Duke University in 2007 to pursue a doctoral degree in history. A Canada-U.S. Fulbright scholar with a doctoral fellowship from Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, she sought to not only pursue her interest in Haiti, but also help reconstitute lost parts of that nation's history.
Her path to discovery passed through libraries in four international capitals -- from Paris to Port-au-Prince, to Kingston and then to London -- as she carried out research for her dissertation on the early days of Haitian independence. At each stop she meticulously studied the papers of governors, heads of state and government agents for weeks at a time, piecing together the relationship between Haiti and other countries during its first years of independence.
"Going to the archives is the best part of being a historian," Gaffield says. "You don't really have a plan, in a way. It's treasure hunting, finding documents that have not been touched in years."
It was in London's British National Archives, on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 2010, that she found the original printed version of Haiti's Declaration of Independence. She recognized the document's importance immediately but contained her excitement in the staid document reading room.
"It was a weird moment," Gaffield says, recalling how she looked around the room to see strangers concerned with their own research. She continued working in the archives for several hours until she returned to her friend's London home. There she emailed her Duke advisers Deborah Jenson, a professor of romance studies, and Laurent Dubois, a history professor, to share the news. They were thrilled -- both for the budding historian and for the historical heritage of the Caribbean nation.