NEH Humanities Connections Grant

This Humanities Connections grant activity created three new courses in RIT’s  general education curriculum, allowing students to study community, memory and sense of place from two complementary perspectives. Students may take any one of a series of linked courses examining community and memory from various historical, literary, and industrial/business perspectives. This scholarly immersion will allow students to understand the various ways that humanities and social science disciplines have understood and defined community through time and space. Students in all courses will work on engaged research projects focusing on a single Rochester community – initially Marketview Heights – that illuminates local debates over the meaning of community identity and diversity amid new economic and social conditions. By interacting with business leaders, reformers and residents, we hope to show our students that understanding place requires not only intellectual investigation but immersions in communities themselves.

Recognizing that general education students will need a firm grounding in the scholarly study of community, memory and sense of place, each of the three courses comprising this new sequence will focus on a distinct theme and survey key literature in the field. Industry, Environment, and Community, students will examine Rochester through the lens of industrialization, technological innovation, and environmental change between the 1890s and 1990s – an era that saw Rochester’s rise as a leading business city and then decline as “Rust Belt” town beset by unemployment and environmental pollution from the industrial age. In Literary Geographies, students will survey the diverse ways that Rochester residents have shaped memories and a distinct sense of place through personal narratives, oral histories, and, most recently, landscape mapping. In Reforming Rochester: social activism and in American community, students will study Rochester’s dynamic history of social reform during the 19th and 20th centuries, with successive waves of civil rights, women’s rights, and religious reformers attempting to turn Rochester itself into a new and more just American City on the Hill.

To ensure that our course sequence has not only scholarly rigor but an experiential foundation, each class will feature a student engagement project focusing on a single Rochester community. The inaugural course sequence will focus on a Rochester neighborhood known as Marketview Heights. Like many so-called Rust Belt communities that prospered during the heyday of industrialization – thus allowing residents to build durable, still recognizable places – this section of Northeast Rochester has struggled in recent years. Though it played a key role in Rochester’s industrial and urban growth – particularly in the garment trades -- Marketview Heights is now a diverse neighborhood often at the edge of a revitalizing local economy trying to navigate a range of complex issues, including new immigration patterns, political representation in city and metropolitan political debates, the fate of community redevelopment projects, and the meaning of area history and memory in a new global era emphasizing change.

This neighborhood has been the focus of a 10-year partnership between RIT’s University/Community Partnerships program and the Marketview Heights Collective Action Project. With the help of RIT professors, area residents are now creating an oral history archive documenting the memories and experiences of multiple generations of families in Marketview Heights. Through field trips, guest lectures and research activities, students will learn about this dynamic neighborhood, including the way it has navigated economic, political and social change.

We hope that experiential learning will allow RIT students to better navigate a global world that simultaneously requires them to travel across global borders at the drop of a hat (to take internships, co-ops and new jobs in many STEM and computing fields) and yet respect local people and traditions. We also hope to revivify the signal importance of the humanities on and off campus.

Project Team

Lisa M. Hermsen, Professor of English
Rich Newman, Professor of History
M. Ann Howard, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, and Director of RIT University/Community Partnerships
Kristoffer Whitney, Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology and Society
Rebekah Walker, DHSS Librarian at The RIT Wallace Center
Jane Amstey, Associate Director, RIT University/Community Partnerships
Daniel Krull, NEH Project Assistant
Christine McCullough, NEH Project Digital Content and WebDesign/Development
Lizzy Carr, NEH Project Digital Content Assistant
Justin Scalera, Architectural Photographer
Christine Ridarsky, City Historian at the Rochester Public Library
Marcia Trauernicht, Director of RIT Libraries
Marketview Heights Community Experts
Students in Spring 2018 sections of RIT's ENGL 322: Literary Geographies, HIST 340: Rochester Reformers, and STSO 355: Industry, Environment, and Community