Thursday, September 8, 2011
Even as a grade-schooler in San Diego, Dr. Brooke Hunter was interested in Colonial and Revolutionary America, the period of time when a collection of English colonies matured and united to unburden themselves of the tyrannical King George III. But, by the time she was ready to pursue this branch of history in a scholarly way, she had encountered a bit of an issue: none of that happened in, or near, her native California.
In that sense, teaching at Rider has proven to be an ideal landing spot for Hunter, an associate professor of History, who has been at the University since 2002.
“Our location is fantastic, for access to Philadelphia, New York and various spots in New Jersey for accessing historical archives and other materials,” explained Hunter, who followed her interest in the past to the East Coast, earning her Ph.D. at the University of Delaware. “And our classes are small enough that it’s easy to take entire classes on field trips to see any number of historical sites.”
Hunter’s deep interest in her discipline is well-reflected in her dedication to her students, so it surprised almost no one – with the exception of Hunter herself – that she was lauded with one of the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award at Commencement 2011 in May.
“I was very surprised; I had to read the letter twice,” exclaimed Hunter, who was notified in April that she had earned the honor. Among the nominations, one student wrote that, “Dr. Hunter’s enthusiasm for history is inspiring, and every class I have taken with her has been an enjoyable learning experience.”
Hunter’s interest is not limited to Revolutionary America; she also teaches courses in Native American history, United States history through the Civil War, and environmental history, among others. She also team-teaches a course entitled Journeys in American Ecology and History with Dr. Laura Hyatt, assistant dean for the sciences in the College of Liberal Arts, Education, and Sciences. The class, part of the Baccalaureate Honors Program, explores how two seemingly disparate factors – history and the environment – reflect each other in the United States through questions and approaches from both historiography and science.
“Laura and I arrived at Rider at the same time, and are good friends, so we read each other’s research, and thought it would be fun and interesting to develop a class involving both,” explained Hunter of the class’s origins. The course helps students understand how human history is shaped by the natural environment, while the natural environment, in turn, is altered by human history, all aspects Hunter has worked into her own research into agricultural history and colonial-era trade in the Mid-Atlantic states.
By stressing the relevance of local history, Hunter is able to put a more tangible, hometown face on the past for her students, and has taken them to such nearby historical sites as the Delaware & Raritan Canal, as well as the William Trent House and Old Barracks, both in Trenton. She is also involved with the Lawrence Historical Society, and has encouraged her students to intern with the local nonprofit, which promotes the vibrant history of the township.
Hunter is also currently engaged in a research project for the Lawrence Historical Society, tracing the tales of slavery and the abolitionist movement in the town. On Sunday, October 23, she will present her findings, along with her Rider colleague, Dr. Roderick McDonald, professor of History, at the Society’s 8th Annual Mary Tanner Lecture, entitled Slavery & Abolition in Lawrence Township, New Jersey.
“It involves how many slaves were here, and mapping it out to show where they lived, as well as where freed blacks were living, in proximity to their former masters,” Hunter said, noting that the Society itself doesn’t possess much in the way of historical papers, so she is relying heavily on tax records and census lists to compile her research.
Though Hunter’s research takes her to parts of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, she’s happy to be in the Garden State, Crossroads of the American Revolution.
“There’s an old line about New Jersey – that it all happened here first,” she said. “And, in many ways, it’s true. It’s an ideal place to study all the major historical trends – contact with Europeans and the Industrial Revolution, for example. Historically, it’s a very exciting place.”