Photo: Mark Hillringhouse

An Interdisciplinary Study of Historic Paterson, New Jersey

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Follow us as we reflect upon the literary voices of and historical connections to the Silk City - including original poetry by students of Passaic County Community College. 



Become privy to the countless newspaper clippings from local Paterson newspapers dating back to the early 19th century.  These clippings reveal the robust cultural life of Paterson ranging from tourism, to food, and fashion.    


Video Interviews

Listen to the authentic voices that have been rooted from Paterson, NJ and from those who continue to migrate to  the Silk City from all over the world.  From the Italians to the Peruvians, to Moroccans, Patersonians remind us of the rich mosaic that makes us Americans.  


     Led by literature professor Alexandra Della Fera and history professor Dr. Martha Brozyna, “Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project” is an interdisciplinary study of the rich historical, cultural, and literary life of Paterson, NJ.

     This multi-faceted project offers students and the general public a layered glimpse of Paterson, NJ.  First and foremost, this project creates a robust learning experience for students, and will reach hundreds of students throughout its three-year duration.  While satisfying general education requirements, these courses have been redesigned to use Paterson, N.J. as a framework for students to study significant historical and literary periods.  


     While learning about poignant historical figures, artists, and writers, students will be tapping into their inner scholars.  Both professors have created assignments that allow students to delve into thought-provoking and meaningful work.  For instance, Dr. Brozyna’s history students will be learning about local primary source documents and will be digitizing and preserving them for the benefit of future readers.  Likewise, Prof. Della Fera’s writing students will be blogging about the writers of Paterson offering future readers a glimpse of the literary minds that were shaped by the historical and cultural events of this city.   


      In conjunction with a thorough history and literature curricula, the project also forges partnerships with local historical institutions such as the Paterson Museum, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, The Passaic County Historical Society, Paterson Public Library and the American Labor Museum, as well as with scholars and poets from Paterson.  Students will get to visit these institutions to garner information for their assignments, to listen to informative lectures, and to conduct their scholarly research. 


     Although the classroom experience is a significant aspect to the project, both instructors aim to unearth a more profound purpose.  Paterson has been the home of many residents from all over the world since its foundation in the 18th century, and this project showcases both those born into this city as well as those immigrants who continue to seek a new life and a second chance in the United States.   Together, both professors will join film production coordinator, Professor Walter Behr, to interview past and current residents so that they may share their colorful past, mindful present, and vibrant future. 




                             Some Background on Paterson, N.J.


Paterson’s foundation is linked to two of the country’s Founding Fathers.  Paterson was the fulfillment of Alexander Hamilton’s dream of creating an industrial center that would rival Great Britain’s by using the energy produced by the Great Falls on the Passaic River.  It was named for William Paterson, who signed the Charter that established Paterson as a township in 1792, and who was also one of the signatories to the U.S. Constitution. 


     Paterson was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, as it was home to a variety of industries including firearms, locomotives, and textiles.  It became known as “Silk City” in the late 19th century owing to its dominant position in the latter.


     Over the centuries, residents of Paterson have been involved in the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad, and labor strikes.  And while history unfolded, writers have responded to the history and culture around them. William Carlos Williams’ famous epic poem “Paterson” urges readers to discover a city centered around The Great Falls whose “roar is a speech or a voice,” the one of so many who sought to create new beginnings and a prosperous future.  These are the experiences that writers like Junot Diaz and Maria Mazziotti Gillan penned for their stories and poems, works that illuminate a common language for many Patersonians. 


     Through grants and additional government funding, historical Paterson landmarks such as Hinchliffe Stadium, once home to one of the original and few American Negro baseball leagues, are getting a second chance to thrive.  Many are realizing the jewel in the rough that is Paterson, and through opportunities such as “Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project,” students of Passaic County Community College, as well as the public, will get a chance to understand the fragile beauty of a city that rises as its cascading waters fall. 


Passaic County Community College

Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project

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Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities

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