By Theresa Evans
Brooke Hunter, a Rider history professor, is known among students for her love of the subject, so when she was named local historian for Lawrence Township on March 20 at a township council meeting, it was a dream come true.
Appointed by Lawrence Township’s five-member council, Hunter will serve as town historian “to fill an unexpired four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2019.” She will have the opportunity to “seek reappointment” once the term has ended.
“It’s very exciting,” said Hunter. “It was nice to be selected and I feel like, most importantly, I can make a contribution.”
Hunter believes that as a professional historian, she will be able to utilize her expertise in her new role.
“What I can bring that will be, I think, enormously useful is to work to catalog the township archive because currently, it is not cataloged. To create an online, accessible catalog, [we have to] digitize the material. If you want people to be interested in local history, you have to help them to access it,” she said.
According to Hunter, her responsibilities as historian include researching and preserving Lawrence history, lecturing and publishing about “local history,” planning tours and events for Lawrence History Month in October for local schools and resolving “history-related issues.”
“What encouraged me to take this position was that I saw it as a great opportunity to further Rider’s Engaged Learning Program because it gives me access to community resources that I can involve our students in,” said Hunter. “I think that it is important for Rider to be an active and engaged community member, not only in the broader area, but right here where we live, especially given the fact that town hall is our neighbor.”
Hunter incorporates “place-based learning” into her classes, encouraging students to study local history, she said.
Junior secondary education and history major Ryan Ciaccio said, “Professor Hunter’s expertise is always incorporated into the classroom environment and local projects. She understands Lawrence very well and always informs us of areas surrounding the campus to connect to course material.”
“For our History of New Jersey class, our local history project has us work in groups to study lesser-known historic parts of Lawrence,” he added. “Our group is tasked with studying the forest to the west of Rider known as ‘The Big Woods,’ studied by renowned environmentalist Aldo Leopold. Professor Hunter’s previous research and knowledge of the area has helped us explore a rich history within our campus.”
Hunter mentioned that studying a local area allows better access to resources and influences appreciation of the area, which is why she incorporates projects about Lawrence history into the classroom.
“What I would like to be clear is that what I do in the classroom with the students encourages my research and then I use my research effectively in the classroom, so it’s sort of a two-way street,” she said.
Due to a class project she assigned, Hunter became interested in Lawrence Township history.
“Because it focused on Lewisville Road and African-American history, I started doing my own research on slavery and abolition, so that’s what I have done a lot on. As township historian, I am hoping to publish a book that basically now will cover the full history of African-Americans in Lawrence Township, building on slavery and abolition.”
In 2012, Hunter received the Lawrence Township Podmore/Dwyer Historic Award for this research.
Hunter also serves as a Board of Trustees member for the Lawrence Historical Society.
“Dennis Waters, who is the outgoing township historian, was on the board, so I became friends with Dennis, and when he decided that it was time to move on to other endeavors, he suggested that I would be a good replacement for the position. And because I have enjoyed working with the public in Lawrence and the township and the society, I decided that I would.”
Junior history major Shannon LeRoy said she felt inspired by Hunter’s work.
“Learning that she got this honor has shown me another option for what I can do with a history degree after I graduate,” she said. “She has inspired me to do my own research on things I am curious about, along with where to start researching for a project. She is one of the people who have influenced me to not give up on my dreams and continue following them, even when there are bumps in the road.”