Mary Rizzo

Faculty Member


Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Public and Digital Humanities Initiatives


Mary Rizzo specializes in modern U.S. cultural history, urban studies, public humanities, and digital humanities. She is particularly interested in food studies, representations of cities, and inclusive public history.

After earning her PhD in American Studies from the University Minnesota, she built a successful career in public history. From leading tours of an 18th century historic house museum to being the Associate Director of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the state’s premier provider of public humanities funding and programming, she gained practical experience in how to successfully engage the public with history. Some of her signature achievements include creating a statewide series of public forums and community conversations on environmental justice in New Jersey that brought together philosophers, historians, activists, lawyers, and residents to examine the state of our environment. She also managed Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of HealthCare and PoetryHeals, two programs that used discussions of literature to help alleviate burnout and improve cross-cultural understanding in healthcare.

Through this statewide work, she realized that diversity and inclusion were the most important issues facing public history organizations. To address those issues, she created the Telling Untold Histories Unconference while serving as Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities at Rutgers-Camden. This annual unconference uses a radically democratic format in which participants create a series of discussion sessions to examine how we can tell more inclusive public histories.

She brings this passion about inclusive public history to her work at Rutgers University-Newark. She created the public humanities MA track in the Graduate Program in American Studies to prepare students to be leaders in public history and humanities organizations. Through her public and digital humanities courses, her students have engaged in hands-on public history work on issues including mass incarceration, immigration detention, police misconduct in Newark, social justice movements, and LGBTQ history. Visit ExternalStates of Incarceration to see her students’ work on immigration detention in NJ and ExternalFrom Rebellion to Review Board: Newark Fights for Police Accountability, a digital exhibit created by other students. In 2017, Rizzo won the Teaching Award for excellence in teaching NJ history for the travelling and digital Rebellion to Review Board exhibits from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance. She is also on the advisory committee for the award-winning Queer Newark Oral History Project.

An active scholar, writer and researcher, Rizzo is currently working on Come and Be Shocked: Representing Baltimore from John Waters to The Wire. This book examines representations of Baltimore from the 1950s to the early 21st century to see how urban leaders have used art to shape how the city is seen and how artists have fought back through their own representations. Through her research, she discovered a lost Baltimore poetry magazine called ExternalChicory, which she helped digitize and which she hopes will be the basis of a future project. In 2015, she published Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle. She has also published articles in American Quarterly, Museums & Social Issues, Exhibition, The Public Historian, and International Journal of Heritage Studies. She served as co-editor of The Public Historian and was a staff blogger for History@Work.

She has also served as a board member for the National Council on Public History and is on the editorial board of New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. She has worked as a consultant with several organizations, including Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, New Jersey State Museum, Gallery Aferro, and the Tuckerton Seaport. She tweets as rizzo_pubhist.