NEH grant expands horizons for Ramapo’s digital humanities programs

Dr. Sarah Koenig, assistant professor of American studies, was recently awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a grant that will help grow Ramapo’s digital humanities program. 

The grant is approximately $150,000, the largest awarded in the state of New Jersey. The money will be used to train and support faculty and students but also to help partner communities, like public schools and the Ramapough Munsee Lenape Nation, learn how to use digital tools and work on their own projects.

“I love teaching in the American Studies convening group because it lets me combine my interests in American history, American religion, and American culture,” said Koenig in an email with The Ramapo News.

Koenig’s research focuses on how Americans have narrated history, looking particularly at the American West, the taking of Native American lands and how religion has shaped encounters between Native Americans and European settlers. 

These events are interesting to Koenig because, despite happening in the 19th and 20th centuries, the events she studies still affect Americans today.

“The way we narrate history tells us a lot about our hopes, fears, and values,” Koenig stated. “History can seem like a just series of facts, but it’s also about interpretation: we make decisions about what to emphasize, what to leave out, and how to depict different people and actions.”

In the past, Koenig has worked on three digital humanities projects at Ramapo. The first was “The Human Side of a Pandemic: A Ramapo College Digital Humanities Project,” which was a project where Ramapo students collected oral histories of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The second is titled “Mapping the Ramapough Munsee Lenape Nation,” which is an interactive map that features important Ramapough Munsee Lenape places and histories. The third project Koenig has worked on at Ramapo is called “The Penny Colman Collection of Historical Landmarks of Women,” which focuses on New Jersey historian Penny Colman’s extensive research on place names, monuments and other landmarks that honor women.

“These projects are publicly available online and they address real-world issues: how people responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, the historic and ongoing relationship of the Ramapough Munsee Lenape to their homelands, and what, how, and why people are remembered or celebrated in American culture,” Koenig stated.

The NEH grant aims to provide training and research opportunities to Ramapo College students and faculty on how to use and create digital humanities resources to their advantage. Koenig said it also aims to train Ramapo’s community partners, such as local museums and schools, to “create and expand public-facing digital projects.”

Over the next three years, Koenig hopes to hold training sessions to teach students how to use digital skills like mapping and digital archives creation and management. In addition to this, they will also be hiring students to assist with putting together digital projects. 

The goal with the NEH grant is that, by the end of the grant period, all HGS students will be exposed to digital humanities methods through their coursework and have the opportunity to attend workshop training and work in research positions. This goal extends to Ramapo faculty and community partners, too. 

“I think digital humanities will continue to grow at Ramapo,” Koenig stated. “With the help of this grant and with the enthusiasm of Ramapo students, faculty, and administration, we will continue to train more students and faculty, develop and expand digital projects, and add new digital assignments to our classes.”

Koenig noted how students become more engaged in their research when it utilizes digital humanities features, sharing about her students who say it feels different to learn about Native American history from an interactive map rather than a textbook. Creating digital humanities projects in these classes also benefits students by helping them identify important places, write for a public audience and work closely with data. 

“Digital humanities help students to engage with research and writing in new ways that can help them become both better scholars and more adaptable job candidates,” Koenig stated.


Featured photo courtesy of Ramapo College of New Jersey