Duke News & Communications

Duke and the Study of Haiti

When deciding which school to attend for her doctoral degree in history, Julia Gaffield says she chose Duke University because of its "wide-ranging, well-regarded academic focus on Haiti."

The connections between Duke and Haiti became more evident to the rest of the campus following the Jan. 12 earthquake, when the university responded by sending medical professionals and humanitarian aid to the stricken region. Duke professor Deborah Jenson quickly arranged a crash course in Creole to help relief workers communicate more effectively after they arrived in Haiti. A summary of Duke's relief efforts can be found on a special website, http://www.duke.edu/haiti.

Duke's growing academic interest in Haiti will be highlighted on April 22-23, when it hosts a conference on "Haiti's History: Foundations for the Future." The conference will bring leading historians of Haiti together with archivists and librarians to discuss the country's past and how scholars might work together to better preserve and reconstruct Haitian archives and libraries.

The conference builds on several years of activity during which Duke has emerged as a leader among U.S. institutions in the study of Haitian history and culture. The university has recruited experts in Haiti studies, developed a curriculum in Haitian Creole and undertaken a series of interdisciplinary collaborations in the wake of the January earthquake.

This coming fall, the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke will launch its first 3-year "humanities laboratory," a "Haiti lab" that builds on these developments and seeks to speed Haiti's recovery by applying innovative research and practice across disciplines that include Caribbean studies, Creole studies, global health, law and virtual informatics. The Haiti lab will provide a space where experts in Haitian culture, history and language can work with scholars from other areas of the humanities and social sciences, along with legal specialists, experts in engineering and technology, medical practitioners, librarians, archivists and other interested experts, to develop plans to contribute to Haiti's reconstruction. The lab will help produce books, articles, web resources and pedagogical materials -- notably including those in and about Haitian Creole -- that help expand Haitian studies in both the United States and Haiti.

It also will serve as a resource for media outlets seeking to learn about Haiti. Graduate and undergraduate students will be able to use the lab to pursue individual and collaborative research projects and to interact with lab members and visitors.

The lab's co-directors are professors Jenson (Romance Studies) and Laurent Dubois (History/Romance Studies). They are joined by two core faculty affiliates, Guy Uriel-Charles (Law) and Kathy Walmer (Global Health). Gaffield also has been an active member of the effort.

Dubois urges anyone interested in assisting Haiti's libraries and historical archives to support programs such as the Digital Library of the Caribbean or the "Saving Haiti's Libraries" fund established by the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

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