Magazine article Humanities

Briann Greenfield of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities

Magazine article Humanities

Briann Greenfield of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities

Article excerpt

BRIANN GREENFIELD HAD JUST COME TO NEW JERSEY TO head the state's Council for the Humanities when she decided to attend a daylong program at Rutgers exploring black history and culture. It was a snowy February day in 2014, and New Jersey was still new territory for her.

Greenfield grew up in a small New Hampshire town near Lake Winnipesaukee. Filled with old houses, the town inspired the fictional Peyton Place, a setting Greenfield often joked about when introducing herself. Peyton Place, a juicy 1950s novel and a prime-time television soap opera, was replete with gossip, secrets, and double crosses. Greenfield's childhood home, however, was anything but. Her mother worked as a secretary for the state, and her father worked for Pitney Bowes, going from office to office repairing copy machines. She had one brother.

From childhood, Greenfield was smitten with history, and as she grew older her interest in the past grew. A high school teacher. Perry Onion, encouraged this passion and inspired her to study Latin. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in history and earned her Master's in American Civilization/Museum Studies at Brown. Her doctorate, also from Brown, was in American Civilization.

By the time Greenfield arrived in New jersey, she had taught history for close to 13 years at Central Connecticut State University. She developed and taught a cornucopia of courses ranging from museum studies to food culture to the history of consumer culture to the history of technology. Now, being a tenured full professor is not a job many people would walk away from, but Greenfield itched to get out of the classroom and into the real world. "I was tired of talking about what other people did. I really wanted to be on the front lines," says Greenfield, 45, the slight, extroverted director of the New Jersey Council since February 2014.

When Greenfield arrived at the annual Marian Thompson Wright lecture series at Rutgers/Newark she took a seat in the crowded auditorium and took in the speakers' words like a starving man served a lavish meal. The topic was "Tending the Light: Community Organizing & the Modern Civil Rights Movement" and covered Freedom Summer, a campaign launched in 1964 to register black voters in Mississippi. Speakers included participants in the campaign as well as scholars who had chronicled them. As a former professor, Greenfield was used to doing the talking. But she was a good listener, too. "I was blown away by the event," she recalls. …

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