Kristen Nyitray, head of Special Collections and University Archives at...

Kristen Nyitray, head of Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, and a descendant of Lion Gardiner, the English settler and soldier of the 1600s, points to George Washington's signature on an original letter from George Washington to Benjamin Tallmadge about the Culper Spy Ring. Credit: Barry Sloan

A donation from the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation will allow Stony Brook University to appoint a scholar to promote further study of the role Long Island and its inhabitants have played in the nation’s history.

The foundation’s gift, with a matching grant from SBU benefactors Jim and Marilyn Simons, will bring in $1.5 million to establish the first endowed chair in the college’s history department and create a community resource that will increase interest in artifacts, letters and research on regional history, university officials announced this month.

“This thoughtful and strategic gift fosters teaching, collaboration and scholarship at Stony Brook in subject matter that is near and dear to anyone who has roots on Long Island,” university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said. “It will help establish a critical link among the institutions on Long Island and throughout the state of New York, exploring the important role that this region has played in U.S. history.”

The Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987, is a nonprofit group based in East Hampton with the primary mission of advancing Long Island and New York State history.

The organization is named for the last heir to bear the name Gardiner. The family’s ancestry dates back four centuries on Long Island, and descendants from the original family retain ownership of Gardiners Island, a 5-square-mile island located in the Town of East Hampton.

“Knowing about a place and time, their local community and their personal heritage and traditions helps to create links: socially, culturally, politically and economically. Long Island’s rich history is a vital part of the larger story of America,” said Kathryn Curran, the foundation’s executive director.

The process to endow an American history chair at Stony Brook began years ago. This endowed chair technically is the first faculty appointment at the university that the foundation has funded.

Most recently, the Gardiner Foundation endowed the Robert Gardiner-Kenneth T. Jackson Professorship at Columbia University, Curran said.

In the past year, the foundation gave out about $4 million — $1.4 million of which was granted to local Suffolk County historical societies, museums, regional scholarships and historic sites, Curran said.

Since 2004, the foundation has funded annual Gardiner Scholarships for undergraduate students who show exceptional promise as young historians. In addition, it has awarded the Gardiner Graduate Fellowship for each of the past 10 years to support accomplished graduate students in American history.

There are 31 full-time professors in the Stony Brook University history department. There are about 300 undergraduates who major in history, as well as a master’s and doctoral program.

The donation provides a new opportunity for collaboration between the history department and the Special Collections and University Archives at Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library.

Kristen Nyitray, head of Special Collections and University Archives, is a descendant of Lion Gardiner, the English settler and soldier of the 1600s.

Gary Marker, history department professor and chairman, said the new scholar will be a prominent member of a growing and internationally renowned faculty.

“We are ecstatic. It is a really big deal for the university,” he said. “We hope it won’t be the last.”

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