College of Arts and Sciences

Digital Citizenry Project: 4 Towns/1 Book Event Covers The 1619 Project  

A photo of Jubilee Hall on the Seton Hall campus.

The 4 Towns/1 Book Event will take place in Jubilee Auditorium on October 13, 2022.

On October 13, 2022, residents of four local towns--East Orange, Irvington, Maplewood, and South Orange--will come together for a discussion of The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah Jones, meeting from 6:30 - 8:00pm. The event will be held on the Seton Hall University campus in Jubilee Hall Auditorium, and there will also be a live Zoom feed. It is also open to all members of the Seton Hall Community.

The event is part of a New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH)-funded initiative, The Digital Citizenry Project, co-directed by Mary Balkun Ph.D., Professor of English, and Marta Deyrup Ph.D., Professor and Humanities and Outreach Librarian at Seton Hall University. Grant funds were used to provide books for interested patrons of the library in each town on a first-come, first-served basis. Profs. Balkun and Deyrup worked closely with librarians in each town to coordinate the event. The discussion will be moderated by Larry Greene Ph.D., Professor of History at Seton Hall, whose areas of expertise include African American history, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and the History of the South.

The 4 Towns/1 Book event is one of several programs sponsored by the NJCH grant. Prior to this, there were two virtual town hall events, one on “Money, Technology, and Elections" on October 19, 2020, and the other on “Tradition Media, vs. Social Media and the Polarization of the Electorate" on Nov. 2, 2020. While the pandemic put additional events on hold until now, the Digital Citizenry Project will sponsor several programs in fall 2022 in addition to the 4 Towns/1 Book discussion.

The goal of The Digital Citizenry Project is to foster conversations across the four towns—East Orange, Orange, South Orange, and Maplewood—about what it means to be an engaged citizen in the 21st century. The project will provide an opportunity for the towns to work cooperatively on a timely issue of mutual interest. It also takes advantage of social media tools, platforms, and applications to broaden current conversations, engagement, and collaboration from the local/institutional/governmental level to an intra-town level. These forms of communication have become crucial to building and sustaining community in the 21st century.

The Digital Citizenry Project began as a pilot program with the Village of South Orange in 2018-19, and was subsequently funded first by an NJCH Incubation grant and then by an NJCH Action grant. Balkun and Deyrup worked with librarians at the four libraries, as well as local civic leaders and Seton Hall University faculty, to develop a series of events. In addition to two more virtual town halls, they have plans for an essay contest for high school students on the topic “What Does it Mean to be a Digital Citizen?” Additionally, each town library was awarded $750 in funding to run events specific to the needs of their town's residents. For example, the South Orange library brought in a speaker, Mia Charlene White, for its 2021 Juneteenth celebration "Envisioning Freedom," while the Irvington Library hosted a Life Story Club, where one of the three stories participants told was about a civic experience they had, such as voting for the first time, becoming engaged in the local community, and so on. Each of the programs is planned as an opportunity for open dialogue about what it means to be an engaged citizen today, how that can happen, and why it is important in a democratic society. By bringing together residents of four towns in conversations of different kinds, the goal is to build an understanding of the unique challenges each town faces and to foster awareness that leads to mutual cooperation and additional collaborations.

The final product of the grant will be a “Toolkit for Engaged Citizenship”: a repository of plans, materials, reading lists, and templates so other towns can replicate the project, to be posted on the project website. To visit the project website, visit the link here

For additional information, contact Mary Balkun ([email protected]) or Marta Deyrup ([email protected]).

Categories: Arts and Culture