Benowitz discusses new book regarding history of borough

Gwen Fries September 11, 2015 0

In the winter of 2014, Professor Jean-Paul Benowitz, director of Student Transition Programs and assistant director of Academic Advising, began to write his third book, Elizabethtown, at the request of Arcadia Publishing. The book was to serve as a part of their “Images of America” series and tells the history of the borough. Benowitz previously worked with Arcadia to publish the book he and Peter J. DePuydt, then-archivist at High Library, wrote about the history of Elizabethtown College. That book, appropriately titled Elizabethtown College belongs to Arcadia’s “Campus History Series.”
“This book is about the history of the community of Elizabethtown from its beginning in 1708 through contemporary times,” Benowitz said in an email interview. “It follows the development of the local community and the parallel development of Lancaster County, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the United States.”
Benowitz noted the positive effect the book has had in bringing the local community, borough and campus, together. “There is a renewed interest in the community about local history, there is a renewed interest in local civic engagement regarding historic preservation projects, and there is interest by the college community to learn more about the local community,” Benowitz said. He hopes this work, by bridging the gap between campus and community, fulfills the College’s motto of “Educate for Service.”
To begin research for the book, Benowitz read all of the secondary sources related to the subject. “I write a historical narrative of the history of the local community. I identify key people and events,” he said.
In order “to gain context,” Benowitz combed through primary sources in several archival collections, including the Winters Heritage House Museum and Library, Elizabethtown Historical Society, Lancaster Historical Society and the High Library: Earl H. and Anite Hess Archives and Special Collections. He uses these primary sources to help him “identify important themes in the story of the community.” Once he finds themes that he deems significant, he uses them to organize the chapters and locates historic images to “illustrate [his] narrative.”
The book identifies many key figures in the history of Elizabethtown. Two such figures are Peter and Martha Bezaillion. “The Bezaillions invited the Picataway Nation to settle where the Conoy Creek meets the Susquehanna River,” Benowitz said. “The Bezaillion family were French fur traders who collaborated with the Picataway tribes and made Elizabethtown a strategic location for trade, commerce and transportation.”
Benowitz began to give public lectures regarding the book last July and will continue through next spring until he has given a total of seven. He is currently writing a new book, but the publisher has asked that he not disclose the subject at this time.

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