Misericordia University faculty member Jennifer M. Black, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and government, was recently honored by the City of Pittston for her work and leadership of projects to help the Greater Pittston Historical Society (GPHS) preserve the region's history.
A specialist in public history, Dr. Black was presented with a proclamation at a recent City Council meeting by Mayor Jason C. Klush. The proclamation recognized her work with three groups of Misericordia University students – all participants in the university's Summer Research Fellowship Program.
Over the past two years, her students have assisted GPHS to research and record the history of Main Street, Pittston, record and transcribe a large cache of oral histories from members of the community, and digitize and catalogue a large collection of photos and memorabilia into an online exhibit. The three projects have been published at MULocalHistoryProjects.org, a showcase for local history work performed by Misericordia University students and faculty.
The inaugural team of Misericordia University research students spent 10 weeks during the summer of 2015 helping to catalogue and preserve more than 6,000 photos and scans for GPHS. Under Dr. Black's direction, the team worked in collaboration with Ron Faraday, the historical society's president, to catalogue negatives in the GPHS collection and provided metadata and basic interpretive information on each as they entered the objects into the GPHS collections management database.
The negatives included 1960s- and 1970s-era photographs taken by the photographers at the Pittston Sunday Dispatch, the local newspaper in Pittston, as well as a larger cache of negatives on loan from the Lukasik Studios, a private photography studio in Pittston. They also transcribed five oral histories conducted with Pittston-area residents and business owners. The project culminated in the launch of the online exhibit, "Mining the Past: Family, Faith and Industry in Postwar Pittston," which includes narratives to explain the objects and situate them historically, noting important local contexts and their significance.
Dr. Black's second collaborative project with GPHS took place in the fall of 2015, as part of the service-learning course, Introduction to Public History. The students involved worked closely with Faraday to identify and research members of the local community who had lived through times of great strife, such as the Agnes Flood in 1972 and the Knox Mine disaster in 1959. Following their initial research, the students met with members of the community to conduct oral history interviews, which they also transcribed for GPHS. The students then synthesized their research into original essays, which were published online.
Most recently, a group of six Misericordia University research students spent 10 weeks during the summer of 2016 delving through census data, maps, city directories, old pictures, books and newspapers – and even stumbled upon pictures of their own relatives – as part of a project to find and preserve the history of the Main Street in the City of Pittston for GPHS. Also working in collaboration with Faraday, the team was tasked with tracing the changing character of Pittston's Main Street from approximately 1890 through today.
Each student in the 2016 project completed 275 hours of research, which included numerous trips to Pittston to conduct hands-on research at the Pittston Area Memorial Library. The project culminated in an interactive map and digital display, which was published online with the student's research essays.
"One of my goals has always been to encourage my students to become more invested in their local communities, and the work that I've done over the past two years with GPHS has helped realize that goal," said Dr. Black on receiving the award. "The students involved have shared how memorable the experiences were for them and how connected they felt to the people and places they researched. It was my hope that the projects would enable the students to be more civically minded citizens, and the work we've done with GPHS presented the students with the opportunity to do just that. I'm very honored to have been recognized by the Pittston City Council, and I look forward to working with the GPHS again in the future."
Dr. Black joined the Misericordia University faculty in 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in American history and visual studies from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, and a Master of Arts degree in public history and a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan. She teaches classes in United States history, visual culture and public history.
For more information about the Department of History and Government at Misericordia University, please call (570) 674-6400 or visit www.misericordia.edu/history.
Ronald Faraday, president of the Greater Pittston Historical Society, left, poses with Dr. Jennifer M. Black, assistant professor of history and government at Misericordia University, who was presented with a proclamation recognizing her work with research students to preserve the history of the City of Pittston.