Dr. Walter D. Greason Wins NJSAA Author Award

Professor of history and anthropology Dr. Walter Greason was awarded the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance Author Award (NJSAA) for the best non-fiction scholarly work of 2014 for his book Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey.

The Outlook: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your accomplishment. First and foremost, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What types of courses do you teach?

Greason: My name is Dr. Walter Greason, I’ve been teaching at Monmouth University for three years now. I’ve been a college professor however for 15 years. I started teaching classes five years before that. The courses that I teach here are Western Civilization and World Context, normally part one up until the late middle ages. I also teach a perspectives course, on the history of media and how we understand our world as human beings because the way media changes.

The main course I teach is housed in the school of humanities and social sciences and the history and anthropology department but it mainly is filled up with students from the business school, which is Business and Economic Development in American History, and that’s the primary thing I was hired to do here, it’s the best course I’ve taught in the last 10 or 12 years at different institutions. It gets people to look more seriously at both their role within the emerging world economy and the history of how the idea of American property rights has changed since the start of society. That’s the main thing I do here.

The Outlook: As far as your book, Suburban Erasure, what are the themes or topics you discuss in that?

Greason: Briefly to give background on Suburban Erasure. In the mid-80s suburbs were a pretty new phenomenon for folks to study in the United States. There were really only two or three books that had been written about why suburbs were significant. I was born and raised here in Monmouth County, I grew up in Freehold and went to school in Tinton Falls.

As I went away to school in Pennsylvania and got my degrees I came back and I saw the area changing. You know, the expansion of Route 9, the extension of Routes 18 and 33, which had a dramatic impact. T

So in the late 90s I decided to do research on that process. And so NJ, along with CA was the impact point for that. You could make good cases for DE and CT as well, but NJ had a higher concentration of rural to suburban conversion after WWII than just about anyplace else, and it began to draw population out of greater NY and greater Philadelphia to the point that by 1990 NJ was the most densely populated state in the union. Instead of being the Garden State it was a suburban state. And so the intersection of those two images was fascinating.

The Outlook: How did you design your research?

Greason: That was the biggest challenge. I had done a couple of smaller projects so one of my first stops was actually Guggenheim Library here at Monmouth along with the Monmouth County Library, some of the best resources to understand how farming communities changed into suburban enclaves. I gathered a few hundred sources out of here in the first two years.

Then I started to do oral histories because I wanted to gather more firsthand testimonies from the people who had lived through it. So I ended up doing about 40 oral history interviews. That was the template. Getting newspaper accounts, finding the few published book length works.

I did have a small advantage in that I grew up in the area so I knew that there was an unpublished set of work by local African American historians, most notably Lenora Walker McKay, who was based out of Asbury Park and Long Branch.

That was a tremendous advantage, to finally take that and expand and make more formal what she was trying to do. “How can I find other unpublished documents and stitch them together into a coherent narrative?”

The Outlook: How do you incorporate Suburban Erasure into your own courses?

Greason: At the places where I’ve taught previously I try to avoid the existing expertise in my department. So we already have two 20th century American historians who do extraordinary work. We have folks who do work in environmental anthropology and digital resources and oral history, as well as African American history.

So my approach here at Monmouth has developed the areas of economic history for both the US but also through world economic history.In doing that we have an extraordinary world historian who does a lot on Middle Eastern politics, cultures, social histories. To add the economic dimension to that has been really rewarding for me in setting up my next book.

The Outlook: What are your plans for your future research?

Greason: For the last 12 years I’ve been teaching economic development in one form or another, and raising more pointed questions about the way that we measure economic growth, as economists, historians, social scientists.

There are a lot of gaps in the kind of information we provide folks, Even if we stay informed daily through outlets like CNBC or Fox Business or Bloomberg News. So the tools set up all kinds of problems that we saw most clearly in 2007 through 2009 with the great recession and the over speculation in real estate and the abuse of financial markets that emerged.

And so, that problem with vocabulary and conceiving the scale of the economy that we were trying to create, that became the problem I wanted to try and address. In 2012 I began doing a couple of things. First, I took a previous business I had been running and reorganized it into a global business incubator, The International Center for Metropolitan Growth. What we do here in North America is draw business from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America into the US and North American markets, and give them low cost options to get them higher income customers.

Why don’t we generate more small to medium size enterprise and enable every citizen to become a business owner so that they have more economic autonomy, and at the minimum, stability, so that they are not dealing with high cost and high debt and running out of resources for the things they want to do to pursue their dreams. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m writing about globalization broadly and then I run a company that provides solutions to people every day.

The Outlook: Where does this achievement stand on the list of what you’ve done in your career?

Greason: Wow. It’s really the culmination of everything I’ve started since I was five years old. To have the book published in 2013 was tremendous, and to have my peers, other scholars, archivists and librarians, people who know NJ history best look at the work, read it carefully over the course of a year and then select it as the best work of non-fiction for the past year, there is no higher honor. There are larger awards in the historical profession in the fields of national history or international history, but for a work focused on NJ, the award from the NJSAA is the best thing available. I’m in a very happy moment of this long process.