Institute for History and Public Engagement

Public engagement is the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities, to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

Launched in 2016 with support from the University at Albany and its College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for History and Public Engagement seeks to build on the university’s strengths in the humanities, broadly defined, and on the Department of History's strengths in business, environmental, religious, policy, and public history. We work to engage university partners and community stakeholders in programming that addresses the needs of the Capital District, New York State, and beyond, while enhancing faculty research and student opportunities for experiential and service learning.

The Institute seeks to make community engagement an essential part of a liberal education (a comprehensive approach to college learning across disciplines that encompasses critical thinking and evidence-based discovery) and to provide real benefits to our community in the process. We do this by:

  • Supporting programs that cultivate outreach and grant writing in the humanities and social sciences;

  • Collaborating on innovative projects with partners throughout the university and across SUNY campuses, including those focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation;

  • Developing experiential learning opportunities that connect classroom teaching and community engagement; and

  • Supporting an annual faculty fellowship that prioritizes community-focused scholarship in the humanities.


In 2021-2022, IHPE is engaged in a one-year planning project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project, “Building the Study of History into Professional Programs at a Public Research University,” seeks to integrate the study of history into undergraduate professional programs in homeland security, informatics, and public health.

See: NEH Grant Supports Efforts to Integrate History into CEHC, SPH Undergraduate Courses

DOWNLOAD OUR NEW PAMPHLET: Everything Has a History Pamphlet

Director, 2021-Present

Prof. Ryan Irwin
[email protected]

Graduate Student Associates

2019-2020 Hannah Swezey
2018-2019 Wonhee Lee
2017-2018 P.J. Kuno
2016-2017 Tina Peabody

Faculty Fellows

Each year, the Institute invites applicants to its Community Fellows Program, open to any full time UAlbany faculty member within the College of Arts and Sciences whose project embraces the humanities, broadly defined. The fellow will engage in research on a project that connects directly with the community. In particular the Institute seeks to fund projects wherein the expertise of faculty member of the University can be brought to bear on important issues of the community.

Current Fellow

2021-2022 Janell Hobson (Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies)

The year 2022 marks the bicentennial Harriet Tubman’s birth (1822-1913). Dr. Hobson is guest editing a special series commemorating this anniversary for Ms. magazine’s online and print pages, curating work by key scholars, writers, artists and educators. In addition, she will work with Ms. on an interactive  feature for the series, which will serve as a prototype for a digital project that integrates aspects of the routes that Tubman took to freedom. She will also be working with her spring graduate class to develop a “Harriet Tubman Syllabus,” to become part of the series. This project continues the work from a local “pop-up exhibit” on Tubman funded by a Humanities STAR grant in 2019 and will be shared with the UAlbany community.

Past Fellows

2019-2020 Kendra Smith-Howard (History)

To better integrate place-based historical inquiry into the courses at the University at Albany, and to involve fellow faculty members and community organizations in designing and implementing these curricular initiatives. Focusing on two main projects: Environmental Justice in the Capital Region & Beyond; and Centering on First Prize: Community Life, Industry, and Environment in the Shadows of the Tobin Meatpacking Plant.

2018-2019 David Hochfelder (History)

For his continued work on 98 Acres in Albany, which chronicles the biggest story in the history of Albany since its founding by the Dutch—the state’s 1962 appropriation of 98 acres in the city center for construction of a futuristic state capitol complex. The making of the Empire State Plaza demolished about 1,200 buildings and displaced about 7,000 people, making it one of the nation’s largest urban renewal projects in proportion to a city’s population. (Visit the project website,

2017-2018 Stacey Torres (Sociology)

To extend and expand upon her earlier research on aging in place with a special focus on minority and immigrant elders in Albany, a growing segment of the older population in New York State and nationwide. This project also has an oral history component, as interviews will not only probe present-day experiences of aging but also inquire about long-term residents’ experiences of living in their communities at different parts of the life course.

2016-2017 Sheila Curran Bernard (History; Documentary Studies)

Focusing on the work of the folk and blues musician better known as Lead Belly, in the context of the post-Reconstruction South, and exploring his short-lived but critical collaboration with Library of Congress music collector John A. Lomax, including a 1935 performance tour in Albany and other areas of upstate New York.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning activities at UAlbany allow students to complement classroom knowledge and acquire relevant disciplinary and professional skills by participating in substantial, hands-on activities. Experiential or applied learning opportunities typically include planning, training, monitoring, reflection, and evaluation.

Examples where UAlbany students “learn by doing” include:

  • Undergraduate [and graduate] research and field study
  • Service-learning and volunteerism
  • Internships, clinical placements, and co-ops
  • Study abroad
  • Course-based experiential learning, such as creative works, client and community projects, and field trips and site visits

IHPE Annual Report, 2020-21