West Windsor, N.J. – Susan Kozel, Assistant Adjunct Professor of History at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) has earned a research fellowship at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS) in 2020.
The month-long fellowship is located less than a half-mile from Monticello, the former plantation of President Thomas Jefferson. According to its website, ICJS is a multidisciplinary research center that supports the study of Jefferson and his world.
Kozel earned the fellowship for her project “Thomas Jefferson’s Complicated Friends.” “This was a rigorous application process,” Kozel recounted, noting that she had to summarize her detailed project into a succinct, 500-word statement. Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, recommended Kozel for the fellowship.
At the institute, Kozel will be researching Jefferson in relation to the Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends. “Essentially, I’m interested in investigating the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Quaker Bowling Clark, in order to understand both the slave management and personal interactions of these men,” Kozel said. “Why did Jefferson employ Quakers to oversee and sell slaves at Poplar Forest and Monticello?”
Her interest in studying the Quakers started with a conversation in her home town of Upper Freehold. “Over 15 years ago, people in my town discussed the Underground Railroad being active in our community,” Kozel said. “So, I began digging, reading scholarly writings about the African American community in Monmouth County, [New Jersey], and I researched the abolitionist work of Quaker Richard Waln, who owned a plantation in Upper Freehold named Walnford.”
In her research, Kozel continually returned to stories about Quakers who worked with Jefferson. “Jefferson is an enigma,” Kozel said. “He is the nation’s foremost founding voice for freedom and yet he owned over 600 slaves in the course of his lifetime.”
Though this topic is one of her foremost interests, Kozel’s research is more than personal interest. She hopes to incorporate her work into her courses, ideally by spurring student conversations about the consequences of choices in the past. “I’ll work with Dean Robert Kleinschmidt and the faculty to consider the best approach,” Kozel said.
She added, “But sometimes, the most effective lesson comes when students read the actual words of a person from the past and then consider their meaning and impact.”