Newest Americans is an innovative art and documentary project chronicling the immigrant experience from the vantage point of the campus of Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N), which U.S. News & World Report has designated the most diverse national university every year since 1997. The project cross-pollinates academic inquiry, professional media production and public humanities programming to generate fresh narratives and insights about our emerging majority minority population and the nation it is transforming.
Newest Americans is a collaboratory—a collaborative laboratory—led by project partners RU-N, VII Photo (an internationally renowned collective of photojournalists) and Talking Eyes Media (an award-winning social documentary production company). Professional journalists, media-makers and artists work alongside RU-N faculty and students to research, produce and disseminate stories that define our shifting national culture. In partnership with regional cultural, civic and public history organizations, Newest Americans investigates and documents hyper-local stories with a broader resonance, making this a project with both Jersey roots and a global reach.
Since 2014, Newest Americans has produced a multimedia digital magazine, mounted gallery and museum exhibits, and numerous public humanities events that have engaged audiences in in-depth conversations about the challenges and opportunities presented by the majority minority country we are becoming. Newest Americans curriculum has been utilized in classes ranging from public history to narrative journalism to multimedia storytelling, and our work has been featured in national print and online publications including Photo District News, National Geographic, The Atlantic, and The New York Times.
Newest Americans is rooted in the curriculum of the multidisciplinary Department of Arts, Culture and Media and the doctoral program in American Studies and Global Urban Studies, where undergraduate and graduate students are trained by and work alongside faculty from multiple academic and arts disciplines. Through these classes, and in collaboration with our local partners, Newest Americans is developing replicable curriculum that promotes multimedia, project-based, civically engaged learning. Accomplished photojournalists and documentary
filmmakers collaborate with faculty to find innovative ways to use digital media to advance the public humanities in the classroom and through programming for the general public. Newest Americans curriculum links scholarly research and art-making to civic engagement, offering students the tools and training to research the stories and histories of their own communities, and to share their findings in a wide variety of artistic and documentary mediums. Students, while becoming adept in multiple research methods and expressive media, are also training to be socially inquisitive and self-reflective citizens; critically and compassionately engaged with their cities, towns, communities and careers, and capable of pursuing these engagements with skill and purpose.
Building on research by faculty and students, Newest Americans explores local stories that engage issues ranging from the lasting legacy of the Great Migration, to how the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 has transformed the population, to the global refugee crisis spurred by the current conflict in Syria. By using contemporary tools and technologies to mine the past to better understand the present and envision the future, Newest Americans is an incubator for new perspectives and comparative scholarship on the rapidly changing demographics of New Jersey and the nation. By training the next generation of scholars and citizens to use multimedia tools to study and depict the historical and contemporary impact of global migration, we strive to engage younger and more diverse audiences in the stories that define our distinct histories and that will shape our common future.
Media produced by the project has been disseminated across multiple platforms to ensure exposure to a broad and diverse audience. We routinely partner with cultural and civic institutions in the Newark region to develop and present public humanities programming related to the work we are producing. We have created audio-visual materials and public humanities programming for exhibits at Newark’s Gateway Project Gallery and the Newark Public Library.
Our documentaries have won awards and been selected for screenings at the Black Maria, Garden State and Montclair film festivals. Newest Americans multimedia digital magazine is the site for publishing and disseminating some of the most exciting work produced by the project. The magazine has garnered public attention and critical acclaim, and has been described by Social Documentary Network’s Zeke magazine as “a pioneering new media concept” and “a remarkable initiative in multimedia storytelling.”