Kean University Awarded National Grant for History Lab


Two Kean University history professors have received Kean University’s first national Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) grant to create a “history lab” that will use virtual reality to bring to life not only a historic wedding from nearly 245 years ago, but also the cultural and political world of New Jersey in the late 18th century.

The nearly $85,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to Professor Elizabeth Hyde, Ph.D., and College of Liberal Arts Acting Dean Jonathan Mercantini, Ph.D., is funding their research project, MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livingston’s World, which celebrates the life and legacy of New Jersey’s first governor, William Livingston. Kean qualified for the grant after recently receiving HSI designation based on the high percentage of Hispanic students it serves.

“This National Endowment for the Humanities: Humanities Initiatives grant brings high distinction to Kean and will create new opportunities for research and interdisciplinary learning in the liberal arts,” said Kean University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey H. Toney, Ph.D. “The University's recent HSI designation highlights what we already know – that the rich diversity of our students fosters deeper learning as problems are approached from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.”

Spearheaded by Ed Johnston, assistant professor in Kean University’s Robert Busch School of Design in partnership with Liberty Hall Museum, the first phase of the project, Liberty Hall 360°: A Revolutionary Wedding, will use 360-degree virtual reality technology to recreate the marriage of Livingston’s daughter Sarah to John Jay, the first United States chief justice, at Liberty Hall in 1774.

History honors students wrote the script after extensive research, which included reviewing the writings of William Livingston, the Livingston family archives, 18th-century newspapers and even cookbooks. Viewers of the video will witness the marriage and eavesdrop on conversations that illuminate the growing political tensions at a crucial time in the nation’s history, the months between the Boston Tea Party and the convening of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

MakeHISTORY@Kean addresses current debates in America about the relevance of history and the humanities to contemporary life, and the viability of a liberal arts education in the modern job market,” said Mercantini. “In particular, we are interested in demonstrating and developing career opportunities for undergraduates in the humanities.”

Expanding upon a successful Kean history honors program developed by Hyde and Mercantini, MakeHISTORY@Kean is designed to reach a broad public and to help students develop a portfolio of work and pre-professional experience, enhancing their competitiveness in the job market. The project is interdisciplinary, with history students collaborating with their counterparts at Kean’s Robert Busch School of Design and other academic programs.

MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livingston’s World will also relate the history of the revolution to newer immigrant communities, often excluded from the narrative of that era.

“As a thinker, writer, lawyer, governor and delegate to the Constitutional Convention, William Livingston and his world embody the intellectual, cultural and political forces that gave birth to the United States,” said Hyde. 

The NEH grant will also be used to develop K-12 lesson plans and materials, a national conference and a student-curated exhibit chronicling Livingston’s life and work. NEH grants are designed to expand the range of humanities-based resources and educational opportunities in underserved communities and institutions. This year, NEH announced $12.8 million in funding for 253 humanities projects nationwide.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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