THE TRENTON PROJECT
Purcell Carson, director
I started The Trenton Project, a collaborative documentary investigation, as part of my Princeton University seminar, Documentary Film and the City. We work in partnership with Trenton residents, institutions and community partners to produce short films which together offer a kaleidoscopic lens on the challenges Trenton faces, its ambitions for the future, and the many ways Trentonians are working together to weave and repair the fabric of their city.
Every year, we produce short student films which have two final screenings at the end of the semester: One is a work-in-progress screening on campus and a final public screening, at Artworks in Trenton. Our first themes looked at housing, employment and the ways community members built safe and nurturing spaces. Please sign up or visit on Facebook if you’d like to know when our screenings take place.
In 2017, I teamed up with historian and professor Alison Isenberg to begin looking at the volatile 1960s and the changes they brought to Trenton, looking in particular youth activism, the so-called riots of 1968, and the death of one young African-American college student, Harlan Joseph, who was shot by a white police officer. This collaboration will result in a feature documentary, Harlan B. Joseph Was Here and Professor Isenberg’s book, Uprisings, on the same topic. This work is the product of six years of original archival research and teaching, over eighty interviews, and the development of a public digital archive. It is also an exploration of how the medium of film and history cross pollinate and inform each other.
The project has fostered a number of cohorts of summer interns over the years. In 2021, we’re hosting ASAP (Aspiring Scholars and Professionals) interns from five universities in New Jersey. The broader goal of all this work is to broaden scholarship about young people, particularly people of color, in the 1960s and the strategies they pursued in response to racial injustice. We're eager to engage students and young scholars in that study.
The Trenton Project has also been working with the city’s Latinx population—specifically the Guatemalan enclave. Thanks to a 2019 Fulbright, I was able to spend a year in Salcajá, Guatemala, the city of origin for many of the newest Trentonians. That work is producing fresh suites of student films and a feature documentary, La Vida No Termina / Life Does Not End, about the long-term impact of migration on two cities in the Americas.
The Trenton Project is a production of the Program in Urban Studies, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities, the School for Public and International Affairs and the Program in Community Engaged Scholarship. Our work on the 1960s is also generously funded by the 250th Fund in Innovative Undergraduate Education and the Princeton Histories Fund, and Alison Isenberg's book is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship. We're honored to have received recognition from the New Jersey Historical Commission. The Princeton LABS program funded early work in Guatemala.