The value of community-engaged history is a major theme being explored in the Community History program during the month of June. On June 5, 2023, Community History program staff and previous participants took a trip to Grounds for Sculpture for the New Jersey Association of Museums annual conference to present a panel on the value of community-engaged history as a tool for museums.
Representatives from Rutgers Geology Museum, Raices Cultural Center, and William Trent House each discussed their experiences doing community-engaged work and how it allowed them to deepen their relationship with their communities and for community members to “see themselves” in their organization’s projects and programming. Each organization explained how the process of community-engaged history opened opportunities for dialogue with community members by giving them the space to tell their stories and discuss the kind of history that they wanted to learn about themselves.
These are the kinds of conversations that current cohort participants are having with their communities. Union Public Library will expand their existing neighborhood chats to focus on stories of immigration and to gain community feedback on ways of preserving and sharing these stories with the wider public. Indian American Club also focuses on immigrant stories and will host two community conversations this summer focused on the connection between immigrants and the business community.
Participants from Shady Rest, the country’s first African American owned and operated golf and country club, will be testing out multiple ways of gathering and sharing the diverse histories of their space to see what garners interest from their stakeholders, whether its significance as an early nineteenth century farmhouse, Black history hub, or all the above. Haddonfield Public Library is focusing on their role as a community hub by developing a toolkit and resources for community members and organizations to be able to tell their own stories.
This month has also been one of change and adaptation. Being responsive to communities is a foundational practice in the Community History program, and we live that within the program as well. We were sad that Washington Township Public Library had to leave the program due to staffing limitations, but we are pleased to announce that TRUE Mentors is (re)joining the cohort! TRUE Mentors originally participated in the Community History program in 2021, engaging Hudson County youth with their local and personal history. They had their own staffing challenges during their first time in Community History and hope that in rejoining the program, they will be able to re-engage the youth they work with to feel represented in and connected to their communities.
The “new” cohort looks forward to continuing the work of their projects and learning from other community-engaged projects, including the Battle of Red Bank Archaeology Project, this July!