Readers 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.