Whispers of the Enslaved:
Teaching History Through a Partnership

Public History Site Collaborates with Professional Educators

The museum professionals at the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) of Freehold, New Jersey have teamed up with local education professionals through the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission (MOESC) and Monmouth University to teach history through the sharing of specialized skills. 

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Our Story

Our story began when MCHA Archivist Dana Howell reached out to Dr. Wendy Morales, then serving as the K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Director for the Middletown school district in New Jersey. Dana was running the fledgling eduction program based on MCHA's award-winning exhibit on slavery in New Jersey, Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall, and was looking to not only engage students in the on-site experience, but create a standards-based digital program to supplement classroom learning in the most effective way possible. Dr. Morales immediately recognized the potential of such a collaboration, and reached out to Dr. Jason Fitzgerald at Monmouth University to begin a successful partnership between the three organizations. It is from this partnership that the successful Elizabeth Van Cleaf Institute was created. 

Meet The Team

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Dr. Wendy Morales

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Assistant Superintendent, Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission

Wendy Morales has been an educator for twenty-five years, beginning her career as a 6th grade teacher in the Newark Public School District. She earned a BA from The George Washington University, a MA from American Public University, and an Ed.D. from Monmouth University. She currently serves as assistant superintendent of Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission. Dr. Morales earned the Teacher of the Year award in her second year of teaching. After a rewarding five years in Newark, Dr. Morales accepted the role of middle school social studies teacher for the Middletown Township Public Schools where she was fortunate enough to serve as a fellow in the American Institute for History Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) Program. In 2014, she earned Teacher of the Year for the second time. As an early adopter of educational technology, Dr. Morales was accepted into the Google Certified Innovator Program and became a Google Certified Trainer soon after. She has worked in districts all over the country on increasing meaningful technology and personalized learning in the classroom. In 2015, Dr. Morales was accepted into the year-long Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State. Through this program, she developed a passion for global citizenship education and was fortunate enough to work with a partner teacher in the Republic of Georgia. In 2016, Dr. Morales was selected as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator and was named State of New Jersey Exemplary Secondary Educator (2017). Soon after, she was appointed Director of Social Studies and Technology K-12 in the Middletown Township Public Schools. In this role, she supervised over 100 teachers and specialists, co-developed dozens of curricula, and spearheaded important initiatives such as Future Ready Schools New Jersey and the district’s equity and inclusion initiative. Dr. Morales also serves as an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Monmouth University. She regularly presents at regional and national conferences and has had several academic articles published.


Dr. Jason Fitzgerald

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Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction

Monmouth University

A scholar of civic thinking, Dr. Fitzgerald brings his years of social studies teaching experience to explorations of youth civic engagement. Widely published, he collaborates with schools in New York and New Jersey, training teachers to facilitate action civics and inquiry-based social studies practices in their classrooms. Drawing on his experiences as a middle school social studies teacher in the diverse communities of Montgomery County, Maryland, Dr. Fitzgerald’s research explores the ways in which social studies is taught to marginalized populations. His civics-specific research interests have led him to the psychological studies of civic planning as an ill-structured problem category. With this work, he has helped to develop action civics curriculum for Generation Citizen, a national non-profit educational organization, and for young African Leaders as part of President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellows program, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative; he has been Co-PI on over $500,000 of grant money from the United States Department of State, managed by IREX. Dr. Fitzgerald has used his research on historical and civic ways of thinking used when planning civic action to inform teacher professional development for teachers in local and national contexts. In his local and national professional development work, he compared these heuristics to the popular models of action civics and public policy analysis in order to provide teachers with nuanced ways of teaching civic practice to youth. He has also used this research to undergird civic leadership instruction for over 100 young African leaders, as part of the federal Mandela Washington Fellows program. This not only supported those leaders’ civic development, but some participants took the civic heuristic model home and used it to structure their own non-governmental organization work. Additionally, Dr. Fitzgerald’s work with pre-service social studies teachers has enabled research-practice partnerships that serve to support civics instruction in middle and high school settings. He brought together undergraduate and high school students to collaborate on civic projects, incorporating this research into his social studies methods classes. This integration enabled students to establish their commitment to the NCSS C3 framework in their professional portfolios and in their teaching. Additionally, Dr. Fitzgerald helped synthesize civics education research to inform Ford Foundation funding directions. He has served on the Board of Directors for Generation Citizen and on the board of the New York State Council for the Social Studies.


Dana Howell

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Digital Education Archivist

Monmouth County Historical Association

Dana Howell is the Digital Education Archivist at the Monmouth County Historical Association. She earned her BA from Rutgers University and is currently earning her MA in American History through the Gilder Lehrman program at Gettysburg College. She previously served as MCHA research librarian and archivist for several years, during which time her focus was also education-driven. She created the Digital Diversity Oral History Project with her colleague, Joe Zemla, to proactively document the history of our underrepresented communities for future generations of learners, and began the Remembering Covid-19 project, one of the earliest pandemic documentation projects launched in the country on March 15th, 2020, alongside the New York City Public Library. MCHA's new digital education companion to the award-winning exhibit Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall makes the fascinating exhibit content accessible for students, and is supported by numerous state and local organizations, including the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies, the Monmouth University School of Education, and the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission. She is currently working on a curriculum-based high school resource to spotlight the rich and amazing history of Monmouth County, and focused on bringing the best of the MCHA archives to students across the state.

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Bernadette Rogoff

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Director of Collections

Monmouth County Historical Association

Bernadette Rogoff has worked as a curator in the museum field for more than thirty years. After working at the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Hudson River Museum, Rogoff began working for the Monmouth County Historical Association in 1992. She has researched, designed, and implemented over 45 changing exhibitions on topics ranging from the American Revolution to fashion history. Rogoff researched and produced the first exhibition celebrating the work of early 19th century New Jersey portrait artist Micah Williams in 2013. She has lectured and presented at Colonial Williamsburg, the American Folk Art Museum, Princeton Art Museum, Historic Morven, and several New Jersey History Conferences. Rogoff is a hands-on historian, and has demonstrated 18th century skills including spinning, weaving, sewing, and basket weaving for the Association at numerous events. Rogoff also manages the Colonial Kitchen Garden at Covenhoven House, the Association’s Freehold historic site.

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Joe Zemla

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Senior Curator

Monmouth County Historical Association

Joe Zemla is the Senior Curator of the Monmouth County Historical Association, which operates five historic houses and maintains a museum collection of nearly 40,000 objects. After graduating Rutgers with a BA in American Studies, he completed a post-baccalaureate program at Harvard in Museum Studies. His current work focuses heavily on New Jersey's often overlooked history of slavery, using various research methods and interpretive methodologies to bring this narrative into sharper focus. He recently co-curated MCHA's exhibit "Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall," which was awarded the New Jersey Historical Commission’s 2022 Giles R. Wright Award for excellence in African American History. This exhibit is based on archival documentation as well as evidence of material culture uncovered in the former enslaved living quarters of the 18th century home. Joe has recently presented these findings and related research at events hosted by the New Jersey Historical Commission, Monmouth University, the Society for Historical Archeology, and the New Jersey Historic Trust. He is also a New Jersey representative for the Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI).


The Elizabeth Van Cleaf Institute

A Fellowship for K-12 Social Studies Educators

Cohort One: New Jersey's Colonial History for Grades 3-8 Teachers with a special focus on the exhibit Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall. Over the course of three half-days, this program provided educators with background knowledge and age-appropriate strategies for using primary sources and inquiry learning to teach local history. 

Elizabeth Van Cleaf was born into slavery at Marlpit Hall in 1806. The teaching institute honors her memory. 


Cohort One of the EVC Institute

Our Method 

Exhibit Tour

The first step was to have the teachers tour the exhibit. In each room of the 18th century home, they encountered a representation of one of the seven enslaved individuals who had once resided at Marlpit Hall. Through primary source documentation, they learned the stories of these people, and what life may have been like for them there. They also gained an understanding of the institution of slavery in the North through the curators' research and unique discoveries in the slave quarters above the kitchen. 

Curriculum Experts

Dr. Morales and Dr. Fitzgerald gave the fellows a refresher on the 2020 NJ Curriculum Standards, and the reasons why these standards are in place. They explained the benefits of using the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) to focus on the core of the instructional design process, and demonstrated how to create an effective IDM. Dr. Morales and Dr. Fitzgerald walked the learners through the "hows" and "whys" of each step, instilling confidence along the way and thereby making the process much less daunting.

Guest Lecturers 

Guest lecturers helped to blend the techinical aspects of the Institute with fascinating career and life experiences. Dr. Rich Veit introduced the fellows to the wonders of an archaeological dig, and to the significance of some of the artifacts retrieved from the grounds of Marlpit Hall. Dr. Hettie Williams gave the fellows insight into the study of history, particularly as it pertained to African Americans in New Jersey, and the ways the information is interpreted and taught at the university level. Dr. Graham Russell Hodges, renknowned author of the book Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North, discussed his process for researching the little known topic of slavery in the North twenty years ago, and the significance the information still retains today. Professor Gilda Rogers gave a fun and informative presentation on the African origins of what has come to be known as soul food today, and the importance of understanding and remembering the legacy of the enslaved in the cuisine many of us eat every day.


Graham Russell Hodges , attending by Zoom


Professor Gilda Rogers

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Dr. Hettie Williams


Dr. Rich Veit

Museum Professionals

Exhibit curators Joe Zemla and Bernadette Rogoff brought a behind-the-scenes museum perspective to the fellows starting with a personal curator-led tour of the exhibit followed by a presentation on Zemla's discovery of artifacts beneath the floorboards of the slave quarters at Marlpit Hall. A discussion of the primary source-based research for the exhibit followed, in which fellows were given a glimpse into the process of how the curators built the biographies of these long-forgotten individuals using information found in the MCHA archives and beyond. In the course of the presentation, fellows learned to analyze and interpret the primary source documents used in the exhibit, followed by a hands-on activity led by Howell to put those skills into practice using local runaway and sale ads from 18th and 19th century newspapers.



Digital Exhibit Resources

These free, standards-based digital resources make the exhibit accessible for those schools which are unable to visit due to financial or transportation constraints. They are also excellent classroom tools for those teachers who have visited the exhibit with their students and would like to continue to work with the content in the classroom. The resources scale the exhibit content to the appropriate level and offer cross-curricular standards-based questions and activities to engage the students in a variety of skills based within the framework of primary source analysis, including inference, arts interpretation, music, and creative writing. Differentiated learning strategies can easily be employed using the various visual components included in the material. The interface was designed specifically with classroom usage in mind, and is therefore only viewable on a laptop or PC. The mobile view is not conducive to the design and has therefore been disabled.

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Instructional Materials

These instructional materials were presented to the fellows over the course of the Institute.


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Recommended Resources

These resources were recommended to the fellows by the presenters to enhance their continued education. 


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