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Faculty Spotlight: Steven Elliott on Bringing Newark's History to the Classroom

Headshot of Steven Elliott, PhD
"I devote time to transcribing [archival] sources that might be useful in the classroom."

Steven Elliott is a Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences - Newark History Department and holds a PhD in American Military History from Temple University.  His research has been recognized by awards and fellowships from the David Library of the American Revolution, The Fred W. Smith Library at Mount Vernon, the Society of the Cincinnati, the North Jersey Heritage Trail, and the New Jersey Historical Commission.  His book, Surviving the Winters: Housing George Washington’s Army and the American Revolution was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in early 2021. He has also published articles and reviews in New Jersey Studies. Steven currently teaches courses on the history of Newark, history of New Jersey, and American military history at Rutgers University-Newark.

How does your research, scholarship or professional experience inspire your teaching?

My research and teaching complement one another. On every visit to the archives, I devote some time to transcribing a few sources that might be useful in the classroom. I believe that by sharing where and how I found the source, in addition to interpreting its content, I can assist students in better understanding the historian's craft. Likewise, my students’ questions about topics related to my research interests have led me on new paths of inquiry in my own projects. I hope that some of my writing eventually makes an impact on undergraduate and graduate students in their research endeavors. Thus, I believe that not only are research and teaching of equal importance for a historian, but also that the two are mutually reinforcing.

After teaching History of Newark for the past six years, I have embarked to write a new history of the city. This project is directly informed by my teaching experiences. I've endeavored to research and write about topics and perspectives that I've found were not covered in existing works. I hope the book will eventually serve as a foundational text for others working on the city's history.

What is one innovative or unique teaching practice you’d like to share?

My graded assignments evaluate students’ understandings of the major themes and issues covered in the course. I find that rote memorization of names, dates, and key terms has little place in the twenty-first century classroom. Instead, I generally include an essay assignment in every course. Regardless of the course level, these essays ask students to engage with primary sources. In 100- and 200-level classes, I ask students to use primary documents to trace change over time in a particular theme. For 300- and 400-level courses, I give students more autonomy for finding sources on their own and drawing them into dialogue with secondary readings.

How does this work advance the university's mission as a publicly-engaged anchor institution?

As a scholar and teacher of Newark's history, all of my academic work engages directly with Rutgers' host city. In the classroom, my students are exposed to Newark's complex and contested history and challenged to think critically about the issues facing the city. Likewise, my research delves deeper into under-studied aspects of the city's past, such as housing, labor, and women's issues, to yield a more well-rounded understanding of Newark's history.

Additional Resources on Dr. Elliott's Work:



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