Doing Better Than A ‘Path Through History’


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nycapitolThe recent posts on the role of the municipal historians and the Path through History project have touched a nerve, several actually, as reflected in the emails I have received. Great!

There are serious issues which need to be addressed and few if any forums for discussion. It is astonishing how many people in the history community are not aware of the Path through History project or who have already given up on it on being anything credible – “an elegant show,” “the fix is in,” “I never heard of it.” In this post, I would like to share some things which are being done and suggest some things which should be done.

1. The Western New York Association of Historical Agencies (WNYAHA) among other regional history organizations holds an annual conference. Shouldn’t every one of the ten regions of the Path through History have similar organizations and meetings? Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such regional meetings?

2. The New York Cultural Tourism Network (NYCTN), which is primarily a central New York organization, meets periodically, most recently February 6 in Syracuse, to promote cultural tourism in New York. Shouldn’t every one of the ten regions of the Path through History have similar organizations and meetings? Shouldn’t they also work with the history organizations in their community? Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such regional meetings?

A. At its December, 2012 meeting NYCTN reported:

It was agreed that increasing the communication and improving it through a Constant Contact type software should happen to increase visibility and assist in the membership campaign.  Karen Howe suggested Vertical Response as another newsletter software that the Barnes Foundation uses, it is similar to CC and it is free.  (www.verticalresponse.com) Barb Bartlett brought up the possibility of a list serve so that each member could share information without having to have Spike distribute it.  There was agreement that however it is done, the members need to be informed of what the other is doing.

Isn’t this true in every region? Isn’t the lack of communication a statewide issue? Should every region and organization have to reinvent the wheel? Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such regional meetings?

3. The Connecticut League of Historical Organizations (CHLO) is holding regional meetings in the state called “CLHO On the Road.”

Join friends, historical neighbors, and colleagues from your local region to network and learn. Each meeting will feature a chance to get to know your heritage colleagues, a formal presentation on a topic of interest chosen by you at our last regional meetings, a chance to share news and updates, ask advice, and share ideas with your colleagues, refreshments, and a tour or visit to the host institution.

Networking is just a fancy term for the reality that people are social beings who need to meet with other people. In effect given the size differential, these are the equivalent of county meetings sponsored by the state organization. By contrast the Mid-Hudson regional Path through History Project hasn’t even met in all seven counties in its jurisdiction and a similar situation is probably true in the other regions. Many people are unable to attend regional meetings because the distance is too great. Shouldn’t our regional organizations whether independent entities or part of a state organization also meet at the county level? Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such regional meetings?

4. Last February, I received an email invitation from Prof. David Hochfelder, Associate Director, Public History Program, Department of History, SUNY Albany, to participate in a workshop following the annual Researching New York conference in November. He is a reader of my posts and initiated this workshop to bring SUNY faculty from around the state in contact with public historians working in various locations and settings. I was unable to participate since I am away at another conference at that time of year.

Much of the cost for the program was due to travel expense, another reason it’s important to conduct such workshops at the regional and county level so resources within the community can be utilized and travel expenses reduced. Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such meetings?

5. On one hand, New York wishes to promote its historical sites but on the other hand field trips have been eliminated or minimized. There is no place on statewide tests for local history or way to apply the skills learned in local history to state, national, and world history. The new common core curriculum may be ready for review in April, 2013. By coincidence, here is what a retired Columbia County teacher wrote on a listserve.

The idea of having them research a local issue and tie it to the larger history of the nation is great. I have found plenty of stories about Copake that reflect national issues.

As you noted, the project lends itself to students doing archival research. They can also learn interviewing skills etc. I’ve scanned many local residents old photos into my laptop and then put them onto my Facebook page (and into a PowerPoint presentation)

I understand your concern that it’s an American history survey course, so you might identify some major topics for students to pursue:

1. how their towns functioned during World War II for example
2. How immigration has affected the town
3. Where the founding fathers came from and how they went about establishing government
4. The town’s economic history: in Copake, the town was badly affected by the rerouting of a major road so that it now bypasses the town
5. The social structure of the town
6. How the dominant groups in the town have interacted with minorities

Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such communication with the NYSED on the social studies curriculum, the importance of filed trips, and civics?

In Connecticut, social studies teachers are gearing up to have their voices heard in the state capitol. They plan to create a new Legislative Liaison position and issued the following proclamation.

For far too long we have simply complained to each other about the inaction at the state level on the Draft Social Studies Frameworks and the lack of a Social Studies Consultant in the State Department of Education. Recently, members of Social Studies and History organizations around the state met to find ways to change that, AND WE NEED YOUR HELP!

We need to work together to make our voices heard at the state level. We know how important Social Studies education is in the lives of our students and for the benefit of our state. Some of our students will be scientists, and some will be engineers, but ALL OF THEM WILL BE CITIZENS.

For far too long we have stood on the sidelines while others decide the future of our discipline, often relegating it to ten minutes at the end of the week. No longer. For more information, AND TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD,

An amendment to include a position of “Legislative Liaison” to the list of Executive Board officers. Create a new Article Six, Section 6 to read:

“The Legislative Liaison shall:
a. Chair the Public Affairs Committee.
b. Survey the board, CCSS members, teachers, administrators and/or other stakeholders to gather information related to legislative goals, professional development needs, etc.
c. Work with the Public Affairs Committee to create annual legislative and policy goals for the organization.
d. Inform the organization of proposed legislation involving education, teachers, testing, etc.
e. Work with the Public Affairs Committee to create strategies to work with other interested groups and individuals in the state to foster the goals of CCSS.
f. Consult and coordinate with NCSS representatives on these matters.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some do something similar on behalf of the New York History community, John McEneny for instance. Wouldn’t the $1,000,000 already allocated for the Path through History project be better spent by hiring people to facilitate such efforts in Albany?

What are the forums for addressing these issues in the New York State history community – (i) the role of local and state history in education, (ii) the creation of paths through history that reach out to the local residents who don’t even know their own community’s history, (iii) the creation of an effective history infrastructure at the county, regional, and state level connecting municipal historians, historical societies, teachers, professors, historians, and tourism, (iv) speaking up in Albany? Will these issues be addressed at the annual statewide conferences of Museumwise, APHNYS, NYSHA, NYSCSS? The history community needs to do a better job of addressing these issues and producing results.

We remember together or we die alone.

9 thoughts on “Doing Better Than A ‘Path Through History’

  1. Miguel HernandezMiguel Hernandez

    Thanks Peter. Agree with your point that the various local historical groups need to create some sort of lobby type organization of county, regional, and state level connecting municipal historians to speak up in Albany. However by definition a lobby needs to have money or at least a critical mass of voters who will influence the legislature and the governor and even Congress and the President. Am disappointed for instance that all the state and federal government’s emphasis is education in on business, math and the sciences but not even a token of concern about history.

    Miguel

    Reply
  2. Addie Harris

    Yes, local historical groups need a lobby to yell “WE ARE HERE” in Albany.

    I am sorry that I am one of the people who has already given up on the Path Through History being anything credible. Albany will spend a million dollars on signage and they won’t even know where to put them. I assume that others have noticed that press releases from the Governor’s Office sometimes contain errors about where historic sites are located. When I happen to spot an error, placing historic sites in my county that aren’t there or moving one of ours to another county, I send an email. I have yet to receive a reply.

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  3. Susan Day Fuller

    Peter — One of my greatest concerns about the Path project is the apparent lack of knowledge of, or deliberate disregard for, a program long established and administered by the State of New York Department of Transportation — the New York State Scenic Byways Program. The economic development, tourism attraction, and community revitalization objectives of the Scenic Byway program are the same as those of the Path.

    For each designated NYS Scenic Byway, a comprehensive Corridor Management Plan (CMP) has been developed, involving hundreds of hours of work and participation by community stakeholders, including local historians, along the specific byway route. It is also likely that NYS has invested millions of dollars in the development of these CMPs.
    For an example of a Corridor Management Plan recently approved by NYS DOT go to:
    http://www.tughill.org/about/tug-hill-commission/projects/maple-traditions-scenic-byway/
    In that document you will see significant resources, historic, scenic, cultural, etc. that have been identified as part of the process, and a detailed map with resource inventory. You will also see that it contains detailed, comprehensive Implementation Strategies for Economic Development , Recreation, and Tourism (including regional marketing), as well as Signage, Transportation Safety, and Stewardship.

    For an example of how ideas generated in Corridor Management Plans have been implemented, I encourage you and your followers to visit the website created by the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA). http://www.adirondackscenicbyways.org/

    On that website, for which there has been no funding to keep it fresh and up-to-date unfortunately, folks can see how the Byway program can create opportunities to bring together — and alive — the historic, recreation, and cultural heritage riches of our communities.

    On a side note, detailed rules about signage for existing designated Scenic Byways, as well other roadways in NYS, that may impact the Path project are available at the website below:
    csdagis2.cas.albany.edu/scenicbyway/resources/…/signage_addendum.pdf

    Wouldn’t the $1,000,000.00 allotted for the Path Through History Project be better spent in supporting the many initiatives already identified in Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plans. These will help create memorable, authentic experiences that will encourage travelers (from afar, as well as within the region) to extend length of stay, make return visits, and become word of mouth ambassadors for our great resources.

    Spending the money to hire consultants to help coordinate and facilitate development of CMP identified projects makes far greater sense, and is likely to have much greater return on investment, than funding the embryonic Path project.

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  4. Gene Bavis

    As Town Historian, I attended one of the regional meetings for Path Through History, and I have been to 3 or 4 of the NYCHTN’s meetings or events. Communications among those of us interested in promoting local history in our area is critical. Several years ago, Wayne County Historian, Peter Evans helped facilitate the founding of a very loosely organized group we call the Wayne Historians Organization (aka WHO). We meet 6 times a year moving around the county to different museums. The group consists of municipal historians and representatives from the 10 or 12 historical societies. We share information about our programs and ask questions of each other on how to do this or that. Last fall, a new genealogical society was founded in Wayne County. It was the WHO organization that helped that happen. If every county had a WHO-like organization, I think that would help a LOT.

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  5. Olivia TwineOlivia Twine

    How is a Path Through History different from the CMP Susan Fuller describes? it seems that PTH would be a good complement, but if the CMP is being ignored, how would PTH be different?

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  6. Susan Day Fuller

    One way to achieve PTH objectives would be to use a portion of the $100,000. in each region to hire a consultant who would review the Implementation Plans in that region’s Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plans and identify one or two specific projects that will also help achieve that region’s Strategy and implementation priorities. The remainder of the $100,000. could be used to fund those projects. These might be Interpretive Signage, on-line and audio tours, way-finding tools, or event development.

    Reply
  7. Cheryl Longyear

    I am historian for the Town of Montezuma in Cayuga County. We have group that formed a coalition, (H3C) of museums and historical societies along with several town/village historians. We meet on a monthly basis. We did a county museum map/brochure and are presently working on a place mat project to give to local restaurants with a museums located on the map. The coalition shares resources such as speaker lists and a locally published book list, and we have held a Cayuga County History Week with programs to attract visitors. We’re doing great work, but it’s a struggle to be able to fund any of our projects. It seems it would be of more benefit, if some of that Path project money was filtered down to our local county level where the real work is being done!

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  8. Heidi Bamford

    Hi Peter and thanks for the update,
    I am very concerned about the path being taken by the leaders of Path Through History – there seems to be a great disconnect between the “upper levels” of project management and the people in the field – why are we constantly overlooked – we are an existing infrastructure with all the tools needed to move ahead – except the financing and the coordinated communication structure – I have pointed this out to the people in my region from the NYSREDC who are engaged in the PTH project – I hope it is something that will be addressed – maybe what needs to be done is some kind of preliminary assessment any time a new action is proposed – the upper level management needs to ask itself: what resources are in the region our specific action is addressing? Who are the contacts? What information do we need from them? Can they support what we are proposing to do there? What else is needed?
    I think I’ll bring this up at our next meeting…

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  9. Jamie

    While I agree that there’s a tremendous need for coordination of resources, I would strongly encourage the use of technology-based alternatives to a series of meetings. With budgets already tight and getting tighter, many smaller organizations who would could be valuable parts of these undertakings are not able to send staff or volunteers to meetings – either due to cost or scheduling constraints. Webinars, listervs, centralized member websites, etc. all allow people to remain engaged and participate as their schedules allow and at minimal cost. Let’s not lose the valuable input of so many by insisting on physical get- togethers as our primary venue for the sharing of information.

    Reply

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