Promoting public history: Rowan, county freeholders team up for fellowship at historic Red Bank Battlefield

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In what is a unique partnership between Gloucester County and Rowan University, Jennifer Janofsky has been appointed as the Megan M. Giordano Public History Fellow at Red Bank Battlefield in National Park.

Jennifer Janofsky wants to bring Gloucester County’s 18th Century Whitall House into the 21st century…so to speak.

“It’s exquisitely well-preserved,” Janofsky says of the Whitall House and Red Bank Battlefield, located in Gloucester County’s National Park.

“With a little tweaking, the site can be brought into the 21st century in terms of being more family friendly and accessible to the public. We’re looking at updating some programs and providing more interactive activities to increase visibility for the site. It’s a site that can appeal to families and young people.”

In what is a unique partnership between Gloucester County and Rowan University, Janofsky has been appointed as the Megan M. Giordano Public History Fellow for the site. Her position, which began July 23, involves implementing plans to enhance the Red Bank Battlefield/Whitall House historic area; developing programs; formulating grant and foundation proposals to acquire funding; developing new events and programs and enhancing existing programs; and developing volunteer programs, including a formal internship program.

At Rowan, Janofsky will oversee and help train undergraduate interns in public history. Additionally, she will teach an introductory undergraduate public history course.

The fellowship, which runs through Aug. 31, 2013, is funded through $30,000 from Gloucester County and $15,000 from Rowan. The fellowship was established last year by Parviz Ansari, dean of Rowan’s then-College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Earlier this year, Rowan trustees voted to split the college in two. Now, the position will be housed in Rowan’s new College of Humanities & Social Sciences under Dean Cindy Vitto, but will be funded this year by Ansari, who serves as dean of the College of Science & Mathematics and founding dean of the School of Biomedical Sciences.

The fellowship is named in memory of the late Megan Giordano, a curator for the county Department of Parks and Recreation at the Red Bank Battlefield. Giordano passed away at age 31 in May of 2011.

More than 32 applicants—including Ph.D. graduates from Oxford University, Columbia University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—applied for the fellowship, according to Rowan History Professor William Carrigan. The collaboration between the county and the University is unique in the field of public history, he adds.

“The county and Rowan worked together to find a creative way to fill the position,” Carrigan says. “The site has tremendous potential. It’s remarkably well preserved.”

Adds Gloucester County Freeholder Director Robert M. Damminger: “This new fellowship position allows our county to work with an expert in public history so that we can continue to enhance the site, develop new events and formulate grant and foundation proposals to fund our programs.”

More than 240,000 people visit Red Bank Battlefield each year. The James and Ann Whitall House, built in 1748 and home to the Whitall family for 114 years, served as a hospital for soldiers wounded in the Revolutionary War during the Battle of Red Bank. Ann Whitall helped tend to the wounded. After the war, the home, which was located on the 400-acre Red Bank Plantation, was the center of a multi-faceted business that included orchards, livestock, a grist mill a smoke house, a shad fishery and a ferry across the Delaware.

The home stands as a great example of family living in the 17th and 18th centuries. Janofsky is anxious to tell its many, many stories. It’s not uncommon, she says, for even local residents to be unaware of the importance of historic sites right in their backyards. Through her fellowship, Janofsky will work to change that.

“The site should pop from the landscape. It shouldn’t blend in,” Janofsky says.

An instructor of public history at Villanova University, Janofsky earned her doctorate in history from Temple University in 2004 and her master’s degree in history from Villanova in 1997.

Since 2001, she has been a consultant to the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, where her responsibilities have included coordinating, researching and organizing material for rotating exhibitions, as well as facilitating the drafting of an institutional plan encompassing preservation, restoration, educational planning and exhibit development. Janofsky has overseen exhibitions at the prison that have focused on race and ethnicity at the prison, solitary confinement and Jewish life at the prison.

Her other public history projects include work with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the National Constitution Center, and the Atwater Kent Museum.

Janofsky currently is a post-doctoral research associate for the McNeil Center for Early American History at the University of Pennsylvania.