One, leadership in Albany. This might come from the State Historian, State Historic Preservation Officer, State Archivist, or an association such as the New York State Historical Association or the Association of Public Historians of New York State. Better yet would be leadership from a consortium broadly representing the state’s historical community, such as a new State History Council. This has been under consideration for a number of years, dating back at least to the plenary session at the 2009 State History Conference in Plattsburgh on the status and future of state history, and discussed in the 2011 special issue of the Public Historian, “Strengthening the Management of State History: Issues, Perspectives, and Insights from New York.”
Two, an agenda. What is it that the state’s historical community wants from state government that is not being provided now? That would become the focus for lobbying efforts. There would need to be a consensus around priority items. Some possibilities might include strengthening the status and role of officially designated local government Historians; requiring the teaching of New York State history in the public schools; an online “Encyclopedia of New York State History” that might begin with entries from local Historians; a new state office for advisory services and grants to historical programs; and better integration of existing programs, e.g., state historic sites linked to education and “Path Through History.” Many would be no-cost, or low-cost items in the context of the state budget.
Three, champions and sponsors in the Legislature. Few things advance in the legislature without strong legislative champions, particularly from the majority in each house.
Getting started would be easy. All it would take would be for an interested organization to set up an online discussion forum or website such as a wiki (no-cost) to discuss these issues or to convene a meeting to discuss how to work together. The website could be set up now. The meeting might take place early in November, to coincide with State History Month.
New York’s historical community could certainly make progress if there were a concerted effort. Other states have shown the way. Minnesota, for instance, enacted a constitutional amendment that directs funds to cultural programs, including historical projects.
There are lots of reasons to feel that this is a good time:
- Thanks to John Warren’s continuing effort and initiative, this New York history blog continues as a central point for information and discussion. The stories of imaginative, robust programs and projects that appear every week on this site constitute evidence about the energy, talent, and determination of the state’s history community.
- Governor Andrew Cuomo is showing more interest in state history than any previous modern governor. He constantly cites New York’s historical greatness in his speeches. New York’s leadership in building the Erie Canal is one of his favorite examples. Governor Al Smith (who signed the law establishing our system of Local Historians in 1919) is often cited as one of his role models. Cuomo has mounted historical exhibits in the Capitol. He has a history website. His “Path Through History” initiative is boosting heritage tourism. An appeal for a new state history program would resonate with all these interests and initiatives.
- The recession is lifting and that means there should be more resources available for progressive, imaginative, cost-efficient initiatives.
- Much of the technology needed to reach people and coordinate advocacy these days is in the social media arena and free of charge. Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are among the possibilities. These are all “no cost” meaning no outlay of funds are required.
Of course these and other initiatives would require talent and expertise, but the state’s history community has those in abundance.