This article examines the role of the public humanities in France during Covid-19 for self-preservation, coping with isolation, understanding an upended world, creating a sense of connection and belonging, and cultivating empathy for others. For instance, in dealing with the existential angst of confinement and economic woes, one of the novels that resonated the most in France and globally was Albert Camus's The Plague. At the very moment that France enforced measures to restrict access to places of culture, many French people turned to the humanities for comfort and perspective. The pandemic accelerated the need for libraries, galleries, bookstores, museums, concert halls, opera houses, theaters, cinemas, and nightclubs, as well as places of dialogue like cafés and bistros. Dialogue and the cocreation of physical and virtual communities were needed as the spread of false information relating to science, vaccines, and nation exacerbated pre-pandemic divisions in French culture.
Araceli Hernández-Laroche is Professor of Modern Languages at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where she coordinates French Global Studies and is the founding director of South Carolina Centro Latino, the state's first university-based center for the study of Hispanic and Latinx cultures. She coedited a volume on World War I with Routledge UK in 2021. Her book chapters, articles, and reviews on existentialist French and North African writers and the multilingual public humanities have appeared in publications by Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, Lexington Books, the French Literature Series with Brill Academic Publishers, The French Review, and the ASAP/Journal, a peer-reviewed journal published by John Hopkins University Press on the study of the arts of the present. She is coauthoring a book in Spanish with Mexican scholars on migration and has work forthcoming on Simone de Beauvoir, as well as an essay on the public humanities in the joint issue of the ADE and ADFL Bulletins, refereed journals published by the Modern Language Association (MLA). She serves as co-president of the MLA's Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL) Executive Committee representing French programs and the MLA's Ad Hoc Committee Valuing the Public Humanities. She is a former president of the SC chapter of AATF.