"Haitian studies is everywhere," said Guerda Nicolas, president of the Haitian Studies Association, in her speech convoking that organization's 22nd annual conference, held on campus Thursday through Saturday.
About 250 scholars of Haitian studies gathered in Sayles Hall Friday morning to attend an opening ceremony that began with a brief moment of silence to commemorate the victims of the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti last January. In her speech introducing the conference theme, "Haiti, History Healing: Facing the Challenges of Reconstruction," Nicolas said the event was a great opportunity to remember those who were lost during the earthquake.
Nicolas said participants in this year's conference represented a number of countries other than Haiti, including Jamaica and the Bahamas, allowing scholars to form new collaborations and friendships.
This year, the conference featured more than 50 sessions with wide-ranging topics, from political development and economy to music and visual arts, approaching the issue of reconstruction from "both disciplinary and interdisciplinary views," said Marc Prou, executive director of the Haitian Studies Association. The conference was an "outstanding endeavor," promoting the "pursuit of new knowledge and skills for Haitian studies," he added.
In the face of the current post-earthquake crisis, there has been increased discussion of Haiti's past, said Matthew Smith, vice president of the association. It is "particularly urgent" to deal with history in such times of crisis, added Laurent Dubois, professor of history and Romance studies at Duke University, who gave the keynote address on Haiti's 19th-century history and its relevance to the country's reconstruction.
Brown decided to help organize the conference two years ago upon the request of the association, said Professor of Africana Studies Barrymore Bogues in his speech at the opening ceremony. Hosting the conference at Brown is an "integral part" of the University's initiative to engage with issues of the world beyond campus, he said.
Bogues told The Herald he hoped the conference would "become a catalyst" in two ways. First, the conference was intended to continue and develop Haitian initiatives currently active on campus, such as the Brown-Haiti Medical Exchange and the John Carter Brown Library's "Remember Haiti" initiative. Bogues also stressed that the conference would reflect what he considers the centrality of Haitian studies to current research in the humanities and social sciences, helping people "think about Haiti as a country with history and culture," rather than a "charity case."
"It is one of the most informative and important conferences that I've ever experienced," said Naika Apeakorang '11, one of the student directors for the conference. It was "certainly a place to be for anyone who is interested in Haiti and all aspects of its culture," she added.
Apeakorang also said she was disappointed by the low attendance among Brown students and faculty. But she added that she hopes that Brown will organize a similar event in the future with various panels on a range of topics and representation of Haitian scholars to continue interest in Haiti at Brown.