Centenary student presents work at prestigious undergraduate research conference

Audrey Gibson in Lille, France, during her semester abroad experience.

SHREVEPORT, LA — Early in the spring 2020 semester, Centenary junior Audrey Gibson received the good news that her paper submission to the Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University, a highly competitive research conference, had been accepted. At the time, Gibson – an English and French major from Austin, Texas – was about a month into a semester-long study abroad program at the Catholic University of Lille in France, so she began to make plans for a whirlwind trip back to the United States to present at the conference, scheduled for early April at the Johns Hopkins campus in Baltimore.

By early March, of course, nearly everything in the world had changed as a result of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many colleges and universities around the world, the Catholic University of Lille moved to remote instruction and most international students chose to return to their home countries. Gibson left France on March 16 and spent the remainder of the spring semester with her family.

The Macksey symposium made a relatively early decision to cancel the in-person portion of the research conference and convert to an online format. Students were invited to upload text, slide, or video submissions to the conference website, where they are available to the general public and arguably will reach a wider audience than they might have in the traditional conference format. This change turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Gibson, who gained some extra time to edit her research paper examining the work of New Orleans Creole poet Adolphe Duhart, a project she began under the direction of Dr. Dana Kress, professor of French at Centenary.

“Duhart lived in the mid-1800s in New Orleans and wrote dozens of poems, as well as short stories and a play, during his life time – all in French!” says Gibson. “The majority of his poems were published in the first African American daily newspaper in the United States, La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans. The bulk of my project has been collecting his poems, and exploring the history of the well-developed community of creoles of color who worked in newspapers, education, and politics, while advocating for equal rights in Louisiana around the time of the Civil War. I've been consulting many original documents, like the newspapers in which these poems were written, as well as pieces that have been written about Duhart.”

Gibson plans to submit a longer version of her conference paper to the Macksey symposium’s online journal later this month, and will have the opportunity to work with a professional editor over the summer if her paper is accepted. Gibson also hopes to contribute to publishing a future book of Duhart’s collected poems through Les Éditions Tintamarre, Centenary’s heritage language press.

Gibson believes that the experience of applying for and participating in the Macksey symposium has been important and beneficial to her professional development, even in its drastically altered form.

“Although I am disappointed that plans have changed and I am not going to be able to have the same experience as I would have, I am thankful that the symposium decided to move to an online-format when they did,” says Gibson “They did this before nationwide shut-downs and restrictions on group gatherings, and at the time, I was glad they were taking the necessary measures needed to keep participants healthy and safe. Of course, it is sad that I will not be able to visit John Hopkins and meet with other presenters, but I am so grateful that they are keeping the conference online and that people will still be able to share their work!”

Gibson was also able to make the most of her time in Lille before the semester was cut short, taking both French language and English literature courses at the university and traveling to Brussels, Ghent, London, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in literature after graduating from Centenary.

Being in both France and the United States in the early stages of the pandemic also gave Gibson the opportunity to observe differences between the response in the two countries.

“At the time that I was still in France, the biggest difference that I noticed is that the French people around me were not in a panic at all,” reports Gibson. “Grocery stores were still fully stocked, people and businesses were operating as usual, despite cutting things down to limit the number of people inside at once. It feels that, upon returning to the United States, citizens were taking this with more of a panic. And I am not saying that fear is not warranted, but panic does not necessarily mean caution. The day that I left, the French government began institutionalizing quarantines and shutdowns as well. I feel that both countries have taken things seriously and taken the measures needed to help keep citizens safe, but that when I was still in France, the general mindset of citizens was to remain calm and do what is necessary to keep the majority of people safe. I hope that with each day, American citizens continue to keep this in mind as well so that we can attempt to return to a normal world soon!”

Read Gibson’s Macksey symposium paper, “Battling a World of Hate with Hope: Unearthing the Life and Work of Adolphe Duhart,” at the conference website here.


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