History Community Coordination: An Update


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home_revolutionReaders of The New York History Blog may recall that in a previous post I asked if anyone had heard about what had been discussed in Cooperstown at the NYSHA conference in a private meeting involving the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), the New York State historical Association (NYSHA), and the New York State Historian among others.

Some of those discussions have now been reported in the APHNYS newsletter. The following excerpts are from the newsletter.

Bob Weible, NYS Historian: The need for cooperation within the history community was also evident in Cooperstown at the June meeting of the Conference on New York State History. I met there with leaders of statewide historical groups, including APHNYS, the New York State Historical Association, the New York Council for the Humanities, and others, to explore ways in which we might all recognize the opportunities that are out there for all of us when we combine our efforts to reach audiences that we all share. I fully expect this conversation to continue in the coming months and years, and I expect it to produce real results soon.

Gerry Smith, APHNYS President: Q: Why are there so many conferences that are very much alike — I can only go to one?  A: A great question, and APHNYS is already working with the State Historian and key groups across the state to bring better cooperation in planning conferences and content for all of us. Stay tuned for more news on this in the coming months.

This is good news. I have used the phrase “cooperate or die” partially tongue-in cheek in previous posts and drawing on Franklin’s cut-up snake iconic image from the French and Indian War. The image illustrates a serious issue in the divided history community. It is large on a aggregate basis, but small at the local level. I would add that one of the audiences the history community needs to reach out to is the Governor since that is where the money is.

A second piece of good news was in the regional meetings which will be occurring in APHNYS. As readers of New York History well-know, I have been a strong advocate of the need for people in the history community to meet, congregate, break bread, and share ideas. I have particularly stressed the county level programs as a way of maximizing attendance as when I created five county history conferences.

Regional meetings for municipal historians are a welcome event. Of the 12 APHNYS regions, seven have meetings planned as of the date of the newsletter and additional ones are likely. Kudos to Barbara Durfee, Region 12 Coordinator for Western New York, for scheduling four meetings at various location throughout the region. While that is a lot to ask, the geographical reality of many regions precludes attendance for many at even a less-than-full-day regional meeting. Here is one area would funding from New York State would be helpful.

The agenda for the Region 3 meeting in the Hudson Valley where I live and which I will attend (as I did the previous one) includes items which may be of interest to others. Furthermore, you don’t have to be a municipal historian to attend. The meeting is reaching out to the history community in the region.

One session is on Historians and Community Identity. The intention is to explore the challenges of research and verification, and how we as historians can use these historical people, places, and events to develop and/or enhance our community’s identity.

A second session will be a presentation by the newly-founded Mid-Hudson Historic Destinations, “whose members represent historic sites, museums, and historical societies – and include some local historians! – in the lower Hudson Valley. Learn how they collectively promote local history events and venues to the general public.”

Readers of New York History will recall the recent creation of The Delaware Company and its efforts at knitting the social fabric in the Upper Delaware River Valley. The Northern Catskills of Greene County is now struggling to come together. I mention these groups because they exist betwixt and between the existing state organizations.

They are not individual municipal historians although they may include them; they are not museums/historical societies although they may include them; they are not professors/independent scholars although they may include them; they are not tourist departments although they may seek to work with them; and they may or may not be 501c(3)s. So exactly where do they fit in the scheme of things?

In the old days of member items they might have turned to their local senators and legislators, but where do they turn now? These umbrella groups like the ones Long Island, western NY, and the Mohawk Valley are forming to deal with the REDCs (where the money is) are vitally important to the health of history community.

A topic of discussion for the meeting raised by Suzanne Isaksen, APHNYS Region 3 Coordinator and Town of Montgomery (Orange County) Historian who has attended several IHARE programs including county history conferences and had a booth at the social studies teacher conference for the Lower Hudson Valley is a followup from the fall meeting called “A Day In (YOUR Village/Town/County)” which she hopes to start this program in 2014. Here’s how it would work:

“YOU pick the date, time, venue, and agenda for the meeting and decide if you want to limit the number of attendees. Perhaps you have a wonderful collection you want to showcase, or want to give a walking tour for your peers to discuss the architectural heritage of your community. Perhaps you are working on a digitization project or have mastered a way to catalog records and want to share ideas, again with your fellow historians. You can also partner with your local historical society or with historians from neighboring communities to host a day for your peers. Again, the date, time, venue, and agenda are up to you.”

As you might expect, I wholeheartedly support this endeavor.

Let me conclude with some specific recommendations.

1. The history community needs to communicate with each other.

I encourage people like Bob Weible and Gerry Smith and representatives from other state and regional organizations to use New York History as a vehicle for communicating information to an audience beyond its membership level.

I encourage the people who chair the regional APHNYS meetings to disseminate the discussion points of their region through New York History.

The same applies to the groups meeting with their RECDs. Each region should not have to reinvent the wheel. Let’s learn from each other.

2. The grassroots regional groups need to be nurtured. They are not NYSHA, APHNYS, or MANY but may combine elements of all three. The New York History community needs to figure out a way to help them to flourish since it is these grassroots communities which provide the best marker of the health of history in New York.

3. The following question in the APHNYS newsletter raises a critical issue.

Q: Your mailings make it sound like I must join APHNYS — do I?
A: No, we do represent every historian whether they are a member or not. The more members makes APHNYS better, but we cannot and do not want to “force” anyone to join our group.

This goes to the larger issue of the absence of New York State support for a state-mandated position. Therefore I recommend state funding for:

1. membership in APHNYS for any municipal historian who wants it
2. travel expense for any municipal historian to attend the state APHNYS conference
3. funding to one hold one regional meeting in each of the 12 regions.

As APHNYS President Gerry Smith wrote in his final sentence answering this question:

The larger the network and more informed we are as historians we are, the better job we do.

Exactly right. It is time New York State made a commitment to the mandated municipal historians who are on the frontline of history storytelling in every village, every town, every city, and every county of the state.

 

7 thoughts on “History Community Coordination: An Update

  1. Devin Lander

    Well said. Another group that you may want to add to your list as a representation of the possibilities that exist for cooperation and collaboration is the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership, a public benefit corporation created by an act of the legislature in 2006. Here is some info and more can be found at: http://www.hudsonhoosicpartnership.org/

    Background:
    In recent years, municipalities and non-profit organizations along the Upper Hudson River have independently initiated local projects that foster the areas’ rich natural and cultural heritage, as well as provide for sustainable economic growth. The Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership was established through and act of legislation in 2006 initiated by Assemblymembers Roy McDonald and Steven Englebright to comprehensively support the local efforts through an innovative and voluntary framework of public and private groups, including local and state government. Municipalities may opt into the partnership at any time through a local resolution. In 2012, legislation passed that expanded the Partnership and changed its name to the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership.

    Partnership Mission
    The Partnership’s mission is to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources and the significant waterways within the Partnership region. Through the tradition of municipal home rule, the Partnership will foster collaborative projects with pertinent non-profit and governmental entities with an emphasis on both agricultural and open space protection, economic and tourism development, and the protection and interpretation of our natural and cultural heritage.
    Membership in the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership includes the following:

    Members of the Board

    Supervisors and Mayors

    Supervisor of the Town of Saratoga
    Supervisor of the Town of Fort Edward
    Supervisor of the Town of Greenwich
    Supervisor of the Town of Easton
    Supervisor of the Town of Stillwater
    Supervisor of the Town of Waterford
    Supervisor of the Town of Northumberland
    Supervisor of the Town of Halfmoon
    Supervisor of the City of Mechanicville
    Supervisor of the Town of White Creek
    Supervisor of the Town of Cambridge
    Supervisor of the Town of Moreau
    Supervisor of the Town of Schaghticoke
    Supervisor of the Town of Pittstown
    Supervisor of the Town of Hoosick
    Supervisor of the Town of Kingsbury
    Supervisor of the Town of Corinth
    Mayor of the City of Mechanicville
    Mayor of the Village of Schuylerville
    Mayor of the Village of Victory
    Mayor of the Village of Stillwater
    Mayor of the Village of Fort Edward
    Mayor of the Village of Greenwich
    Mayor of the Village of Waterford
    Mayor of the Village of South Glens Falls
    Mayor of the Village of Cambridge
    Mayor of the Village of Hudson Falls
    Mayor of the Village of Valley Falls
    Mayor of the Village of Schaghticoke
    Mayor of the Village of Corinth
    Mayor of the Village of Hoosick Falls

    State Representatives

    Appointments*
    Two Appointees by the Governor
    Two Appointees by the President of the Senate
    Two Appointees by the Speaker of the Assembly

    Ex-Officio (Non-Voting)
    Commissioner of Dept of Environmental Conservation
    Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets
    Commissioner of Parks, Recreation, and Historical
    Preservation

    The Partnership has received enthusiastic support from both local government and non-profit groups within the Upper Hudson Corridor and is meeting monthly to discuss projects, create resolutions in support of like-minded issues, and generally foster its mission to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources of the Partnership region.

    TOTAL STATE GRANT FUNDS RECEIVED–$1,473,500

    TOTAL FEDERAL FUNDS LEVERAGED—$2,532,500

    TOTAL LOCAL FUNDS LEVERAGED–$806,010

    TOTAL ALL FUNDS–$4,812,010

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thank you for sharing this information. I would be particularly interested to know how this already functioning entity combining many municipalities has responded to the Path project and what it has done to enhance the historic resources of the partnership region you refer to. Perhaps there are lessons here to be learned and shared with the other regions in the state.

      Reply
  2. Peter Evans

    This essay is so timely and spot on the target. Spike Herzig of the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network had breakfast together just this morning to discuss many of these very topics. NYCHTN is in the process of applying for 501c3 incorporated status so they would become eligible for grants throught the Regional Eco Dec System. Both of us will be attending the APHNYS Region 9 Fall Meeting tomorrow in Auburn. If Spike’s message is well recieved there, I may ask him to attend the APHNYS Region 11 Fall Meeting on November 2nd in Wayland, NY (which is in Steuben County). Tieing all these organizations together can be difficult. For example, NYCHTN tends to be a linear east-west diven network while APHNYS Region 11 is linear north-south driven group spanning a two hour drive from the shore of Lake Ontario on the north to the Pennsylvania border on the south which by the way covers at least portions two different Eco Dev Regions (Finger Lakes and Southern Tier). It is hard to meet the needs and offer benefits on such a large and diverse geographic scale. I think a lot more thinking needs to take place at the State level before these concerns can be sorted out in a way that makes sense to most of us. I had great hope for the governor’s “Path Through History” initiative but that seems to have disappeared into the bowels of “I Love NY”. Maybe what the governor is saying is…OK people pick up the pieces and propose something better and I will support it….i.e. a coordinated “grass roots” movement which may just lead back to what Bob Weible and Gerry Smith are discussing.
    No question, we need to do better.

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks for the update. There are a couple of considerations.

      1. It would be beneficial if people like you and Spike submitted posts to New York History about the regional meetings you attend. I will recommend the same for the APHNYS meeting I attend 10/5. There is a benefit to people knowing what is going on. People really are doing a lot at the grassroots level often for the love it and it is nice to be recognized and to know that you are not alone.

      2. Bring organizations together is a challenge to say the least. That is why I recommended, obviously to no avail, that the $1,000,000 the Governor is willing to spend for the Path project be used to hire people for each region who will have as their job bringing people and organizations together. Otherwise, whose job is it?

      3. By now everyone knows the Path project is a joke as a history project. Right after I wrote the post about Westchester choosing gambling over history, sure enough there was a big article in the paper about Cuomo’s push for the amending the NYS Constitution to permit more casinos. Regardless of the merits of casinos, it is important for the history community not to be bamboozled by governors, mayors, county executives, or tourist departments touting the importance of history tourism when they mean business travel, gambling, and shopping.

      4. That being said, there are areas in the state where history tourism can have a more powerful impact than it can in Westchester. Typically these areas are ones removed from the Big Apple.

      5. We do need to be discussing these matters more in our regional and state meetings and eventually do a better job of organizing to make our voice heard besides to each other.

      As always good to hear from you.

      Peter

      Reply
  3. Mike RileyMichael Riley

    Peter,
    Being a member of the Canal Society of NYS, as well as other canal organizations, I am always interested to see who in the “canal history” field knows about the CSNYS and the other guys within the community. So when I make the effort to travel to different museums and parks that are based on the canal theme, I ask a couple questions. “Are you a member of the Canal Society” and then I ask if the person giving the tour / lecture has been to other canal museums and parks. My reason for asking are many. The main one is that I want to know who and how people within the canal community are sharing.

    Let me give you a few observations.

    Too often, the people giving the tour / greeting the public, have no idea of what is going on at other parks / museums, etc. They know what is in the tour guidebook that someone wrote for their site, and can recite it by rote, but have never taken the time to visit other sites. When someone shows up, they are unable to suggest other sites, or even go off script, because they have never seen what others are offering. This is a major failing, because that person greeting the public is the “canal expert” in the room. It is understandable that sites need volunteers in the room just to open the doors, but it is not enough to just have warm bodies if we are going to survive long term. That person visiting your site is interested in canals (or Civil War, or steam boats) and they are very willing to stop at other sites, if they are told about them. Who is going to tell them if the “expert” can’t?

    We all have different ways of telling the same story. We also, sometimes, get our facts wrong, and unless challenged by someone else, we may never know that we have it wrong. There have been many times when I have read a caption on a display, or listened to a talk, and gone home to learn that what I had thought was incorrect. Then I correct it. But also, some people are really gifted at telling stories and and I have no qualms about “stealing” someone’s technique if it is better then how I do it.

    There is also the “low bridge” syndrome. If a visitor who stops at five canal sites hears only “low bridge, everybody down” five times, they will think that the canal only has one story to tell. “Low bridge” is easy. Everybody knows “low bridge”, let us move on. If people stopping at Civil War museums only heard about Gettysburg, they would stop going to Civil War museums. But unless the directors and docents get out there to see what others are doing, they might feel “low bridge” is just wonderful.

    A lot of this goes to context. The canal in the Cayuga marshes is much different then the canal in Lockport. Same canal, same basic history, both really neat stories that can help to build interest for the visitor. There is little that happens in history that is not related to a larger context. Why were did they build canals, what was happening in the other states or with the Federal government that forced NY to build the Erie? Sure, the canal park down the street has a nice stone lock, but that lock and canal went somewhere. It carried people and goods from here to there, not just from the county line to county line. If we in the history field can’t bother to get the context right, or worst yet, are not interested in the larger picture, what is motivation to get others interested? Unfortunately, what I see is that many good folks running the small museums and parks are not interested. And this is not good.

    Reply
    1. John WarrenJohn Warren

      Hi Michael,

      I’d like to restate my previous offer to the Canal Society to contribute regularly to the New York History Blog.

      Communication is key to promoting the kind of awareness you seek.

      I’d encourage you to begin here at this history community website, which has the largest audience of the kind you seek to reach in New York State.

      John Warren
      Editor

      Reply
    2. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Hi Mike,

      Good to hear from you. The list you sent me of all the canal-related organizations in the state truly was extensive…and overwhelming. I know I need to write some posts on the subject.

      The point you raise goes beyond the canals. Think of any of the themes identified in the Path through History. These are all statewide themes yet all the training is local…about the industrialization in your community or the American Revolution in your community or, as in your case, the canal. This raises an interesting question of what should docents/tour guides/curators know about their theme, topic, event? Can we create standards or guidelines of what everyone presenting the War of 1812 should be expected to know instead of just what happened at their location? How about how that connects with the French and Indian War and American Revolution which occurred at the same place? This involves a certification or licensing system that bears no relation to what happens at present and is beyond the capability of the New York History community at present to discuss yet alone to create. Therefore the chances of going beyond expertise in local detail to understanding in context are non-existent. Still it is an important issue to raise.

      Peter

      Reply

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