Student presents at “Undergraduate Research at the Capitol”
Immaculata University’s Courtney Gambrell of Newtown Square, PA, presented her poster “Demystifying Charles Chesnutt’s Tales of Conjure” at the Undergraduate Research at the recent Capitol Conference in Harrisburg.
Gambrell was one of 36 students representing 17 colleges and universities from across the state who gathered with faculty and Pennsylvania legislators and staff to share their research. The goal of the conference was to demonstrate that research is important to the educational development of college students and that they can make valuable contributions that enrich the knowledge, cultural heritage, and economic well-being of Pennsylvania.
Charles Chesnutt was a 19th-century author who was the first African-American writer to be published in The Atlantic Monthly. Chesnutt wrote many of his stories in regional dialect, and Melanie Kisthardt, Ph.D., chair of Immaculata’s English/Communication Department, noticed that her students were struggling to understand the unfamiliar language and phonetic spellings. Wishing to honor Chesnutt’s literary achievements and to extend the longevity of the literature so that its meaning would not be misunderstood, Gambrell began translating the stories into modern English.
Under Kisthardt’s direction, Gambrell spent two years working on four of Chesnutt’s “conjure” short stories. In them, ex-slave Julius McAdoo describes incidents in which slaves turned to “conjure,” or voodoo, to endure the inhumanity of slavery. This emphasis on voodoo made the slaves feel empowered and linked them to their African roots. In addition to the close reading necessary for her translations, Gambrell researched “local color” literature, Chesnutt’s diaries and letters, and the presence of voodoo in America and the Caribbean as a result of the African diaspora.
Immaculata University is a Catholic, comprehensive, coeducational institution of higher education, located on the Main Line between Malvern and Exton, 20 miles west of Philadelphia.