Summer Fruits of the Humanities

Sketch of William Franklin, governor of New Jersey, 1763-1776, from "Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors," Image courtesy of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

Sketch of William Franklin, governor of New Jersey, 1763-1776, from “Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors,” Image courtesy of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

Recent observances around the on-going 150th anniversary of the Civil War have highlighted the great popular interest in how war affected the lives of everyday people. New Jersey now has a window into everyday lives during the American Revolution, thanks to the good work of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. Crossroads staff and independent researchers have gathered together short biographies of New Jersey residents (Loyalist, Patriot, and neutral). It’s called “Meet your Revolutionary neighbors,” and it’s fun. They offer nifty graphic images of each person and a recital of his or her involvement with the war. They’ve mixed things up around loyalty to the cause, race, birth in the colonies or abroad, and gender. Read them all for a good sense of the wide variety of Revolutionary experiences that people might have had. The clear, accessible prose also includes the dates and places of each person’s birth and death. For a student researcher or an interpreter for the public, these sketches offer a great deal in a ready format. I encourage you to browse and use this new resource, created in part for New Jersey’s 350th anniversary this year. And thanks to Crossroads for a job well done.

For more New Jersey history, migrate over to http://officialnj350.com/, the official state history site for New Jersey’s 350th anniversary this year. You’ll find a wealth of well-scripted and short video clips called “It Happened in New Jersey.” Maybe you thought New Jersey was just about the Turnpike, or smog, or whatever, but you’ll have your eyes opened at this site. Far more than a list of firsts, the video series features three very important aspects of New Jersey’s past. You can explore New Jersey’s vital role in the Revolution, or get to know New Jersey as a hotbed of innovation well beyond (but including) Thomas Edison, or introduce yourself to the remarkably diverse group of Americans who have called New Jersey home over the centuries. For teachers, there are high-grade curriculum guides attached to each episode of “It Happened.” But the videos are just fun by themselves. Thanks are due to the New Jersey Historical Commission and Kean University for making these “Happen in New Jersey.”

And folks, don’t miss the seventh episode of Philadelphia: The Great Experiment. It rocked the ratings on Channel 6 last Thursday, but is available in full online at http://www.historyofphilly.com/. All the other episodes are there too.

Jacket cover for Joyce Carol Oates collection, My Heart Laid Bare.  Image courtesy of the publisher.

Jacket cover for Joyce Carol Oates collection, My Heart Laid Bare. Image courtesy of the publisher.

As an aside and an addition to this month’s miscellany, I’d like to tell about a stunning instance of how being engaged with the humanities can save your life. Don’t believe me? Well, the life in question is my own, so I was there and I can vouch for the truth. My summer reading included Joyce Carol Oates story “Bird in a Gilded Cage” in her My Heart Laid Bare. The main character, Eloise Peck, nee Ingram, wakes unexpectedly to hear her lover arguing in the outer parlor of their hotel suite with his brother, loudly disputing how the two of them intended to use their honeytrap to fleece Peck out of her considerable fortune. As Oates writes, “It was unfortunate for all that Mrs. Peck lacked the cunning, or the simple presence of mind, to flee such a humiliating scene at once . . . in a paroxysm of wounded pride [she] flung open the door between the rooms to dramatically reveal herself… within five seconds Mrs. Peck’s neck was snapped: she was to die, within minutes, a painful death.”

Some few weeks after reading this, I came home alone late at night to our dark and empty house. Coming in the back door, I clearly heard two men’s voices talking in the hallway around the corner. Turns out, housebreakers had just come in by a back window. As I stood unseen, Oates words came back to guide me, shutting my mouth and driving me back out the door, which I locked, and into my parked car to call 911, and out of the driveway. I’m happy to report that nothing was stolen, as I think I interrupted the crime before it matured. Thanks to having read the novel in July, I too emerged unharmed from the experience. Whew!

So that’s the summer round up. Reasons to look into the past and celebrate the anniversary of a great state, and reasons to stop for a dose of fiction anytime the spirit moves you!!

Dr. Holt is a public historian, scholar, teacher, and executive. She is a lecturer in history and public history at Pennsylvania State University, Abington. As a public historian, Dr. Holt seeks to build community connection and civic vitality around understanding and presenting American history. Over more than a decade in the public humanities, Holt has brought about new initiatives, improved the strategic focus and financial management of non profits, built brands, managed teams of staff and volunteers, and contributed to statewide, regional, and national discussions on the future and purpose of the humanities. She lectures in the United States and Europe, and publishes in journals of public history, museum studies, and American history.

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