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Benjamin Hebblethwaite

Haitian Creole Studies
2009-2010 Library Enhancement Grant

While many may not know it, the University of Florida has one of the largest collections of Haitian Creole literature in the world. The largest university in a state with one of the largest Creole populations, UF is a vital institution for the study of this language. With Haitian Creole as the third most widely spoken language in Florida after English and Spanish, librarians at UF have been collecting books in Haitian Creole since they first appeared around 1904. However, within the past decade, significant gaps have emerged in the library’s collection, holes which Assistant Professor of Haitian Creole Ben Hebblethwaite has sought to fill. With the assistance of a Library Grant provided by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere with the support of the Rothman Endowment, he was able not only to bring important new books to the library, but also CDs and DVDs relevant to Haitian Creole culture. “I tried to fill in the gaps,” he said, “and I really just followed my heart.”

A scholar and avid translator who seeks to bring recognition of Haitian-Creole as an important cultural vernacular in its own right, Hebblethwaite ordered mostly books written in that language to build up UF’s library collection. Such works include studies of history and linguistics, but at the same time also include poetry and Haitian Creole translations of important authors such as Camus. In addition to this material, as part of his efforts to encourage students to engage with this vibrant, living language and its culture, Hebblethwaite has used a portion of the Center’s grant to enlarge the music library’s holdings of Haitian-Creole music; his purchases touch on everything from Voodoo rock and roll (called Rasin) to Voodoo rap, to Kompa, Haitian pop music which has been the most popular genre in that country since about 1955. Hebblethwaite hopes that these recent acquisitions will be utilized not just by those who work in Haitian studies, but also anyone working in fields like Latin American Studies, Linguistics, History, Anthropology, Archeology, Agriculture, Forestry, and Ethno-musicology, among many other disciplines.

Hebblethwaite encourages students to find many of the newly acquired books at Counter K of the Latin American Collection of the Smathers Library. This section, which houses some of the most important Creole books in the library, contains numerous dictionaries of different Creole languages. Cognizant of the important comparative aspect of learning and studying Creole languages, Hebblethwaite has used the Center Library Grant to purchase a Martiniquaise Creole dictionary to this section in addition to several books on the Haitian Creole language. Hebblethwaite also used the grant money to acquire library subscriptions to some of the most important Haitian newspapers. All in all, the new materials acquired through the collaboration of Hebblethwaite and the Center for the Humanities and Public Sphere has significantly bolstered UF’s collection of Haitian Creole resources. “This will benefit faculty, students, and visiting scholars,” Hebblethwaite said, “by giving them access to the most recent and the very best materials.”