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History Honors Students Publish Research, Receive National Award

Kean University students Nicole Skalenko and Victor Bretones pose at Liberty Hall Museum

Two Kean University history honors students have published a paper about founding father William Livingston on a Columbia University Libraries blog dedicated to the papers of John Jay.

It is the latest honor for Nicole Skalenko and Victor Bretones, who will be seniors in Fall 2019. They were also part of a group of history honors students who received the Undergraduate Research Award at the Humanities Education and Research Association (HERA) annual conference in Philadelphia earlier this year for their work on Livingston.

Skalenko, from Freehold, said she was shocked when Robb Haberman, the associate editor of The Selected Papers of John Jay blog, asked them to submit an edited version of their HERA paper to the blog.

“The entire experience has been incredibly rewarding and has opened a lot of opportunities for me in terms of research and being able to present our work in a more public sphere,” Skalenko said.

Their blog post, William Livingston: Eighteenth-Century Media and Propaganda, explores how Livingston, New Jersey’s first elected governor, used the power of the press, proclamations and propaganda to sway New Jerseyans to support independence.

Bretones, from Edison, said the blog post was an added bonus after being recognized at the HERA conference.

“My first reaction to winning the HERA award was, ‘Wow, in my first academic presentation, I helped my university win and brought prestige to my university and to my state,’” Bretones said. “I never knew it would go this far. I am very proud of my colleagues and myself."

Their research is part of the MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livington's World project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and launched in 2018 by Elizabeth Hyde, Ph.D., chair of the Department of History, and Jonathan Mercantini, Ph.D., acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts. The three-year project is designed to engage Kean’s undergraduates in original research around the theme of William Livingston and challenges them to explore how to bring history and the humanities to a larger public.  

“The theme allows our students to conduct historical research in their own backyard,” Hyde said. “William Livingston’s home, Liberty Hall, is part of Kean University’s campus, and our students have access to the thousands of historical documents and other materials housed there. Liberty Hall is a rich resource for our students, and you can see that they are using it to its full advantage.”

The six Kean University students who received top honors at the HERA conference pose together.
​(L-R) Professor Elizabeth Hyde and the Kean students who took top honors at the HERA conference: William Corman, Elizabeth Thorsen, Christopher Thoms-Bauer, Christian Mills '19, Victor Bretones, Nicole Skalenko

In addition to Skalenko and Bretones, the other honors history students recognized at the HERA conference are: William Corman, Christian Mills, Christopher Thoms-Bauer, and Elizabeth Thorsen. The research findings presented in their award-winning panel, William Livingston's World: History, Humanities, and the Enlightenment in America, included analysis of Livingston’s literary output, his advocacy for education, and his Revolutionary War era propaganda in support of the patriot cause.

At HERA, the students also reflected on their collaboration with Kean’s design and theatre students on the Liberty Hall 360 project, the re-enactment and filming of the 1774 marriage of Sarah Livingston to John Jay at Liberty Hall. The film, which will provide an immersive experience through 360-degree video, is expected to debut in Fall 2019.

The students are also contributing to a MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livingston’s World website. Skalenko constructed a digital timeline of Livingston's Revolutionary War propaganda. The site also features student analysis of Livingston's "List of Books,” comparing the books in Livingston's collection to those found in the libraries of other leaders of the American Revolution.

For Bretones, each new opportunity is another way to learn about history and himself.

“Everything I have done at Kean through the honors history program has confirmed for me that I have a love and passion for history that will never fade,” he said.