Dean Susan Hangen highlights Ramapo’s varied humanities projects

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College, Flickr.

Interim Dean of the School of Humanities and Global Studies (HGS) Susan Hangen shared some of the current ongoing projects of faculty and students taking place within HGS in an interview with Ramapo News. She also talked about the application of these projects in the digital age, first-year students navigating a new landscape and plans for the spring semester. 

HGS is, according to Hangen, “the home of the traditional liberal arts disciplines at the college.” Some of the majors the school offers include history, political science, philosophy and all of the language programs. 

One exciting event taking place with HGS this year is Tunisian Fulbright Scholar Chada Hamila’s visit, which Hangen describes as a “cultural exchange.”

“She’s learning about the United States from us and she’s teaching us about Tunisian culture,” Hangen said.

Hamila is teaching Arabic classes this year and offering conversation hours for all students who wish to learn the language. She has given presentations to HGS students about Tunisian culture, including one about the celebration of Mawlid, which took place earlier this month. In turn, students are teaching Hamila about American culture and showing her around the area. Hangen shared that she was going to take her to see “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee” on campus to show her an American student musical.

The faculty-led projects on campus, Hangen said, are a reflection of what students learn in the classroom. Instead of writing a paper about what they have studied, students are engaging in active research with helping professors read, upload and sometimes translate documents for digital archives.

“We felt the mission of humanities has changed,” Hangen said. “We’re creating public products and the best way is digital resources to help people.”

She gave the example of the Jane Addams Papers Project, an archive of the documents and correspondence of American social worker and progessive icon Jane Addams. 

“We have all of her correspondence,” Hangen said, “and one of our students went to NYU and got a Ph.D. and became director of the project.”

Dr. Cathay Hajo, Ramapo alumna and current director of the project, introduced it to Ramapo in 2015. The goal at Ramapo is to digitize the archives of the first three volumes as well as complete the digital archive of the other three volumes. The project involves student assistance and its aim is to serve as a lab for students to gain practical experience in historical research, writing, research and public history. Hangen said that students learn skills like website building, digital analytics and research skills as they create a digital annotated version of the archive for scholars to use. 

The American History Textbook Project is another student-driven project led by Professor Stephen Rice. It entails creating a digital archive of American History textbooks and analyzing “how ideas about the past have changed over time."

Ongoing faculty projects also include Professor Sarah Koenig’s joint project with the Mahwah Museum. Her project, entitled “Mapping the Lenape Nation,” is a project that uses GIS, geographic information system, and other mapping tools to locate where most important sites for the Lenape tribe are. 

Hangen also shared her experience of teaching a first-year seminar this semester, the first course she has taught in four years. She said the experience has been a rewarding one, “getting back in touch with students and what student-FYS is like from their perspective.”

“It’s a huge transition to college anyway, but for students in a virtual space who have spent the past two years finishing high school in a pandemic, it’s even more challenging,” Hangen said.

She and the Dean’s Student Advisory Council are meeting to discuss what the spring semester will look like with most students being fully in-person. They plan to host more on-campus gatherings for students and faculty to connect, and are planning a big event for HGS students and faculty next semester. She also encouraged students to follow the HGS Instagram account @rcnj_hgs for updates on research projects, student learning and more.