The State of Municipal Historians in New York


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new-york-county-mapNew York State requires every municipality to have a historian. This means every village, every town, every city, every county, and, of course, at the state level. Hamlets can ponder “should we or should we not have an historian, that is the question” but they are not legally obligated to have one. Nor are neighborhoods. That might seem self-evident outside New York City, but one should realize that the neighborhoods in the city can be substantially larger than even some cities.

Naturally, even when you are required to have a historian by state law there is no assistance from the state in support of that position. It is an unfunded mandate.

Let’s examine the state of these municipal historians.

In 2011, when I had organized with local support five county history conferences, one challenge was to identify the municipal historians to invite to the meetings.

Obtaining a current list with email addresses was a challenge. As of 2011, the website for the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) was “Under Construction” several years, and of no use. I am pleased to report that the website now does have a listing by county which can be downloaded. So I downloaded it. All 270 pages, with over 1,600 listings.

So what did I learn from this document?

1. Cloning human beings has been perfected and is being used extensively in New York. About 150 of the state municipal historians are named “Appointed Historian.” I don’t know who that individual is but whoever he/she is, that person sure gets around the state. Perhaps someone could explain what this designation means and why so many municipalities including counties like Otsego and Schenectady have avoided actually appointing an historian. (Note: the contact information listed for a municipality with “Appointed Historian” is the clerk’s office.)

2. Three of the municipal historians are historical societies: the Town of Pine Plains in Dutchess County, Lewis County, and Westchester County where I live.

3. Well over 300 of the municipal historians do not have email addresses. I gave up counting with another 65 pages (almost half) to go. Even with the “Appointed Historians” that still leaves a lot of human beings listed with no email address. Someone has counted all the missing email addresses, however. According to a report presented at the 2014 annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHYNYS), the current database of municipal historians included 874 people with email listings and 570 names with no email listing. The report stated from 2013 this was a reduction in 93 names of people with no email listing and an increase in 112 names with email listings. Work is ongoing to shrink that emailess number and Rosemarie Tucker, APHNYS 1st VP and Town of Groton historian is to be commended for her efforts. Do you think the people with no email address listed really don’t have one? Or do they just choose not to disclose them?

Most of the email addresses listed are personal email addresses rather than municipal email addresses. By municipal address, I mean one with “@village of” or “@town of”, etc. In other words, addresses like the ones given to the mayor, the chief of police, or the clerk in the municipality. Even Rosemarie Tucker has a gmail address and not a municipal address in the database. How come municipal historians don’t have municipal email addresses like the other municipal officials? What does that signal about the status of the municipal historian within the community?

Although you can’t tell this from the list, how many municipal historians are even listed on the website of their municipality? I have not conducted a survey (or even checked a single county), but from personal experience, I certainly can say that such positions often are omitted from the municipal website. Why?

4. The list is not in alphabetical order. Or rather it is in two alphabetical orders. After Yates, the list resumes with Cattaraugus and ends with Wyoming. A geographically astute person might notice that these 8 counties tend to be in the western portion of the state. In fact, they are all located in Public Historian Region 12 with only Allegany County from that region being included in the consolidated alphabetical listing of the other 11 regions. Why not one alphabetical list?

There are some miscellaneous items that I happened to notice:

The Village of Rye Brook which incorporated back in the 1980s isn’t listed and doesn’t have an historian (I asked at a village meeting);

the Town of Rye in which the village of Rye Brook is located and which recently celebrated its 350th anniversary isn’t listed;

the Village of Port Chester within the Town of Rye isn’t listed;

and the Rockland County historian listed died in February,  2013.

These discrepancies raise the issue of who is responsible for the maintenance of the list. While there is no doubting the yeoman work done to update a list after four years, the effort reveals problems which need to be addressed at the state level.

One might think it is the state historian’s responsibility to maintain the database of the municipal historians in the state. Today, the State Historian’s position is buried in New York State Museum. It includes significant curatorial duties for exhibits at the Museum, and is not funded or staffed to assume statewide responsibilities. The position was not even officially filled from 1994 to 2008.

In other words when it comes to funding and staffing at the state level, one observes the same lack of respect for New York State history as is evidenced from the review of the listing at the municipal level. How hard would it be to require county historians to annually submit a list of the municipal historians in their county along with their annual report … or even to have a database which can be updated online? The answer is apparently, very hard.

The municipal historians were not represented at the New York History Roundtable in May on the proposed New York State History Commission. The lead organization is the Association of Public Historians of New York, of which I am a member. The organization has no paid staff and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Indeed, the business meeting of the first conference of the organization which I attended in 2013 was an eye-opening shock.

I am pleased to see that since then, under the leadership of President Gerry Smith, the organization is now solvent and has been getting its act together. It should be noted that Gerry, besides his volunteer position as president also is the Broome County and City of Binghamton historian. Fortunately he has a day job in the library (and writing and teaching) so he can earn some money before devoting large amounts of time to his volunteer jobs.

Unfortunately, municipal historians do not join the state organization. The membership report for historians and co-historians shows 308 as of February 28, 2014, and 334 reported at the conference in March out of 1,580 municipalities in the state. The overall participation rate of historians alone is about 20%. Why isn’t membership funded as part of the position? Why isn’t there travel allowance to attend the state conference (or regional conference if they are held)?

APHNYS is making a concerted effort through its volunteer regional coordinators to hold regional meetings. I am pleased to report that our recent Region 3 meeting organized by Suzanne Isaksen, Town of Montgomery, was a success with 28 people in attendance including from each of the five counties in the region. However a drive to mid-Westchester from northern Dutchess or western Orange Counties would make for a long day and it is unreasonable to ask one volunteer person to have five county-level meetings. A similar story could be told for the other regions as well. The location of the state and regional meetings influences the attendance and the infrastructure doesn’t exist to support county-level meetings.

Municipal historians are not in an effective position to lobby at the state level even assuming they wanted to. Getting people from Niagara to Suffolk to lobby in Albany at a specific date and time would be a chore. Volunteers, part-time municipal employees, and seniors didn’t sign up for this. And if they did lobby, what exactly would they lobby for? What would be the action items the public historians would bring to the table in the event they are invited to a meeting on the proposed New York State History Commission? What would be the talking points for the state legislators and senators?

Right now APHNYS is in a state of transition. It has climbed out of the abyss, and the plunge in memberships has been reversed. It has been working more closely with other statewide organizations such as New York State Historical Association and the Museum Association of New York, and one hopes such collaborations continue and deepen. There certainly is more to be done with teachers

Finally, I would like to thank Gerry Smith, APHNYS president for his kind words in the May 2014 newsletter:

Lastly, we will continue our efforts to work with our colleagues in related agencies. Recent blogs by people like Peter Feinman and Bruce Dearstyne have stressed the need for us all to work together to make us stronger.

He was referring to the posts Bruce and I (and others) have written for The New York History Blog.

I would like to encourage Gerry to submit essays for posting to The New York History Blog. I would also like to encourage him to invite the regional coordinators and county historians to submit essays about their meetings, their events, or their history, just as John Conway, the Sullivan County historian now does.

There are many obstacles to be overcome, but we have more to gain by working together and sharing information especially if we intend to advocate in Albany to provide the support for New York State history it deserves.

24 thoughts on “The State of Municipal Historians in New York

  1. Miguel HernandezMiguel Hernandez

    Peter: Looking forward to working with you on a potential Ossining History Workshop for Educators and one on Heritage Tourism for municipal Officials in 2015.
    Miguel

    Reply
  2. Tisha Dolton

    In regards to the email addresses, some municipalities do not have an email extension based on their website. So, even though my nycap.rr.com email looks like a personal email, it is not. I have a separate personal email account. I’m sure this is not the case with all municipalities you are referring too & it is an ongoing issue as public historians try to prove our worth to our elected officials, and the public we serve.

    Reply
  3. Peter Evans

    Most of what Peter Feinman writes is correct.
    Every historian is an individual case in point to be considered.
    Here in Wayne County there are 24 historian positions.
    It has taken me almost 10 years working with each town and village to be able to report that today there is a dully appointed historian in every position. Three of the historians did not have computers and had no interest in using an email account no matter where it was located or who paid for it. Many have town or village email addresses but prefer to use their personal accounts. Most work from home though they may hold office hours at the town or village hall one or two days per week. The range of financial support the municipality provides to their historian is again very wide ranging even here in Wayne County. Some are Exec Dir or Pres. of their historical society, some work for their library and maintain a historian’s office within the library. As I said, historian situation comes in every flavor imaginable….each is an individual case. Some sit in the position to fill the slot and help their municipality comply while others take their position very seriously and are an integral part of the government structure. About a third of our historians will show up at meeting, attend regional meetings and go to annual state conferences. Most do join APHNYS but that is likely because I push it hard.
    It is extremely time consuming to keep the address, phone # and email address file 100% up to date and I only have 24 positions to chase after and I am in contact with our historians on pretty much a weekly basis. When something changes, I am usually the last to find out….it is assumed that I “just know” somehow.
    Gerry Smith and all the officers and APHNYS Board of Trustees have done a great job re-organizing our management structure once we separated from the management company in Albany. This was not an easy task partially because the management company was not forthcoming with necessary records they had been responsible for. I think part of this was their own disorganization and they didn’t want to reveal what they hadn’t been doing that they said they would. That is all water over the dam now. I must say, running a statewide professional organization is not an easy task which was a major reason we entered into the management agreement in the first place.
    Region 11 will be the host region for the Annual State Conference which will be in Corning on April 9th – 12th. We had 60 in attendance at our Fall Regional Meeting in Canandaigua on October 4th and I believe we have the core of a good conference planning team which will be getting together in the next few weeks. We are truly blessed to have some very talented people in key leadership positions.
    No question, APHNYS will be an organization people will want to be a part of in the future.
    Best regards, Peter

    Reply
  4. Chris Philippo

    “New York State requires every municipality to have a historian. This means every village, every town, every city, every county”

    That’s not entirely accurate:

    “A local historian shall be appointed, as provided in this section, for each city, town or village, except that in a city of over one million inhabitants a local historian shall be appointed for each borough therein instead of for the city at large; and a county historian may be appointed for each county.” N.Y. ARTS & CULT. AFF. LAW § 57.07 (1)

    “Shall” is a legal imperative: “must.” “May” is not, unfortunately. It creates a problem when it comes to interpreting another section:

    “It shall be the duty of the county historian to supervise the activities of the local historians in towns and villages within the county in performing the historical work recommended by the state historian, and also to prepare and to present to the board of supervisors a report of the important occurrences within the county for each calendar year.” N.Y. ARTS & CULT. AFF. LAW § 57.09

    “It shall be the duty of the county historian [if there is one]”? Incidentally, requiring “a report of the important occurrences within the county for each calendar year” is peculiar. The legal obligation aside, historians generally aren’t chroniclers of current events. Few county historians have ever complied with that law. Few of the shalls in the local historian laws are complied with in general.

    “About 150 of the state municipal historians are named ‘Appointed Historian.’ I don’t know who that individual is but whoever he/she is, that person sure gets around the state.”

    I presume it’s just a placeholder and a way of counting how many offices might be vacant. Search “appointed historian” and one knows how many historians potentially haven’t been appointed; if the field were left blank, such a search of the document would not be possible.

    Decades ago the appointing officers used to send the NYS Historian notarized documents, or at least signed letters, notifying him of the appointment of municipal historians. That rarely happens now. It might help if the NYS Department of State Division of Local Government Services’ Local Government Handbook had a section about municipal historians, or if they had some supplementary text that did.

    However, the current Director of Local Government Services is Mark P. Pattison, who’d also served as Executive Deputy Comptroller for the Office of State and Local Government Accountability. Mr. Pattison as the Mayor of the City of Troy from 1996 to 2003 violated his Oath of Office by never appointing a City Historian as he was legally required to do, making him somewhat of a strange choice for both the NYS Department of State Division of Local Government Services and the NYS Comptroller’s Office of State and Local Government Accountability.

    Incidentally, I’d written those local government offices about municipal obligations to municipal cemeteries, and oversight of municipal cemeteries. The NYS Comptroller’s Local Government office wrote “I was able to find out that the care of municipal cemeteries is the responsibility of the municipality, except for those within cities.” I already knew that “the care of municipal cemeteries is the responsibility of the municipality”, but wanted to know what can be done when they’re not abiding by those responsibilities; I still don’t know. The idea that cities are not responsible for the care of city-owned cemeteries, however, was new to me.

    The NYS Department of State’s Local Government office wrote:

    “The best I can do is apply what I know about land regulation and much of the work I do with local governments to what you’re asking about. There are many laws in New York State passed to encourage positive results for the environment and historic resources but without clear identification of who or what agency is responsible for enforcement and the consequences for violation of the law. The power to regulate land in New York State is at the local level. If local governments fail to perform their duties to the satisfaction of the public, what often happens is organizations and individuals either work toward new leadership through the political process or sometimes take matters that rise to their attention to court to compel the local government to act accordingly if found not to be acting lawfully.
    “Much of the time resources like those you’ve identified fall into disrepair is a result of lack of funding. Local governments are strapped financially right now (and the future isn’t looking bright). Even those local governments with the best intentions are struggling to maintain essential infrastructure.”

    Thus, if a city has open burial vaults in one of its city cemeteries (Troy currently has at least three such vaults) or bulldozes a historic cemetery as Troy did in 1990 when it bulldozed the cemetery where Samuel “Uncle Sam” Wilson’s father and Revolutionary War veteran father-in-law Captain Benjamin Mann (1739-1831) were interred, and seemingly commits hundreds or thousands of acts of grave desecration thereby, then in order to have those crimes prosecuted the members of the public are supposed to somehow financially back candidates for office who can compete with the machine candidates backed by wealthy individuals and corporations, or members of the public are supposed to financially back expensive lawsuits against the municipal government. Obviously not practical suggestions! It’s enough to make one wish NYS had a Moreland Commission on Public Corruption….

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      You raise many important issues in your comment which deserve to be addressed. In response, let me an overall observation. It doesn’t matter what the law says or not because there is no compliance mechanism, meaning penalty, for failure to observe. Thus ambiguities and/or confusion in the regulations don’t matter since they don’t have to be obeyed. By and large, most municipalities will go through the motions of complying at least with the existence of a municipal historian especially if it doesn’t cost and money and the person doesn’t do anything except issue a proclamation on anniversaries. Overall, the municipal historian is not recognized as a public asset who can contribute to the wellbeing of a community. The absence of leadership at he top, meaning Albany, drives home that message. This is where the proposed New York State History commission could make a difference.

      So could the Path through History if it had been done right. Your comment on Uncle Sam points that out. You claim that Troy bulldozed Uncle Sam’s cemetery.
      The Path website lists “Uncle Sam’s Gravesite, 50 101st Street, Troy, NY 12180” as the gravesite of Sam Wilson, a meat packer in Troy, NY, who supplied rations for the soldiers. Rations had to be stamped U.S. for United States, but it was joked that the U.S. stood for Uncle Sam (Sam Wilson.) Clicking on the link brings up the Oakwood Cemetery. So which is it?

      PS I believe the State Division of Local Government falls within the supervision of Assemblyman Englebright’s committee. It’s things like this that may have contributed to him proposing the New York State History Commission.

      Reply
  5. Donald A. Windsor

    Peter,

    Some of us play the role of municipal historians even though we are not officially designated. We form a sub-culture that you might not be aware of.

    I write articles and books and edit a journal about the local history of Chenango County. I am self-appointed. I do this because I am a biologist and spend a lot of time in the field. Our local history has determined what species live here now. Ecosystems have histories too. I do not need any wages and do not care to be beholden to politicians. And, no one can fire me!

    Donald A. Windsor, Norwich

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      There probably is an underground network of unofficial historians throughout the state, people with no official position but who are active in the local history community.

      You certainly are correct to point out the importance of the ecosystem. From the harbor in New York City to the opening in the Appalachians to the glacial lakes, the stage on which human history has occurred has helped contribute to that history.

      You may wish to consider submitting some of your writings to The New York History Blog.

      Reply
  6. Joseph P. Bottin

    Peter
    I have lamented some of the same lamentations you outline in your piece I just read.
    I am a newly appointed County Historian and learning what it all entails.
    Dick Williams has been a great support.
    I’ll get there eventually.
    In the meantime, your Blog will keep ;me pumped up.

    Below are my thoughts on the questions you asked.

    Thanks,
    Joe Bo

    Joseph P. Bottini – Oneida County Historian, Retired School Teacher.
    9440 Willowbrook Lane
    Sauquoit, NY 13456
    jpbottini@roadrunner.com
    315 737 9317 – home
    315 272 9986 – cell

    **********************************************************************************
    Q. Do you think the people with no email address listed really don’t have one? Or do they just choose not to disclose them?

    A. Many local historians are older folks. Many do not have a computer or a good working knowledge of how to use one. People are lazy and busy with doing mundane chores.

    Q. What does that signal about the status of the municipal historian within the community?

    A. Difficult to access.

    Q. I certainly can say that such positions often are omitted from the municipal website. Why?

    A. If it isn’t sports or something else that brings in the voters, forget-about-it.
    History is not the preferred subject i our public schools.

    Q. How hard would it be to require county historians to annually submit a list of the municipal historians in their county along with their annual report … or even to have a database which can be updated online? The answer is apparently, very hard.

    A. I am a newly appointed County Historian and I am finding it difficult to get a complete list so far.

    Q. APHNYS is making a concerted effort through its volunteer regional coordinators to hold regional meetings.

    A. I would like to get information about those meetings, please. jpbottini@roadrunner.com

    Q. There certainly is more to be done with teachers

    A. Common Core got there before us, Teachers are inundated with paperwork beyond reason form those CC mandates.

    Q. I would like to encourage Gerry to submit essays for posting to The New York History Blog. I would also like to encourage him to invite the regional coordinators and county historians to submit essays about their meetings, their events, or their history, just as John Conway, the Sullivan County historian now does.

    A. I would like to submit essays. I represent one of the most history rich regions in the state. How do I begin?

    New York State requires every municipality to have a historian. This means every village, every town, every city, every county, and, of course, at the state level. Naturally, even when you are required to have a historian by state law there is no assistance from the state in support of that position. It is an unfunded mandate.

    The article with historian ought to be an – I think.

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Congratulations on your new position and thank you for writing. Your willingness to write for The New York History Blog has been passed on to John Warren, the editor. It would be good if all the county historians wrote for the site even if it meant simply transposing their address in the county newsletter to the blog.

      Dick can probably bring you up-to-date on APHNYS since the listing will now have to be changed to list you. I don’t know what regional meetings were or are planned for you but APHNYS certainly can provide you with that information. In the meantime, I suppose you will be getting to know your own municipal historians in your new position.

      Reply
  7. Martin A. Sweeney

    Thank you, Peter, for your informative blog.
    I am a municipal historian listed on the municipality’s website and paid an annual salary which has always gone up at my request because of the quality of service rendered. However, that service is treated as one would treat a “vendor” and not as a budgeted line item.
    Also, is it legal for one to be the appointed historian for two municipalities simultaneously, say for a town and a village?

    Reply
    1. Chris Philippo

      “is it legal for one to be the appointed historian for two municipalities simultaneously, say for a town and a village?”

      AFAIK, yes, if the person is a resident of both the town and the village, and if appointed Town Historian by the Town Supervisor and Village Historian by the Village Mayor. That said, I can think of at least a couple reasons why it might not be the best thing to do.

      Reply
    2. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Actually it is possible to be a village, town, and county historian simultaneously since I know someone who is. Towns and villages may be very close, sharing the same name and drawing on the same involved population particularly in smaller areas. Since villages are part of towns that combination makes sense but since a person can not have a legal address in two towns, that combination is not warranted.

      Reply
  8. Nancy White

    We are the Larchmont Historical Society, covering the 10538 zip code, which includes the Town of Mamaroneck and the Village of Larchmont. Our archivist is the official historian for the Town of Mamaroneck, but the Village has not had one in many years, since the former one moved to Dobbs Ferry. We have brought this to their attention and they have done nothing.
    Nancy White
    President,

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  9. Mary Ellen P. Kunst

    Peter, once again, a very enjoyable article. As a newly appointed historian and finding our 226 years as a town barely archived, the daunting task of uncovering the history and presenting it in a viable format is a challenge. I find people are starved for this information and the inquiries are pouring in from around the country, especially since I started a website. Prior to my appointment, the town historian was not reachable on line. It’s becoming very time consuming and is a lot of work for a volunteer. I believe the historians are at a point where the old guard who were mostly off line are fewer and fewer, putting the work load onto the newly appointed. Compiling the information on digital format is the latest challenge. Yes, NYS funding would be well received but how would it be regulated? Keep up the good work. – Mary Ellen

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  10. Carol Kammen

    A great post.

    Unfunded mandates are not generally considered to be important, especially if the state that mandates them shows absolutely no interest in what happens. We need leadership from the State Historian’s Office and I believe that there would be considerable response from the field to that leadership. I also applaud your idea of getting the County Historians together to discuss our leadership role.

    In Tompkins County, the municipal historians and Faithful Friends of History (self designated and invited people interested in our county history) meet monthly, and have been doing so since 2000. All but one of the historians has an email address, some through their municipalities, some not. Some of us have both. We “talk” on email with frequently, we send out questions to each other as they come in from the public or as they arise, and direct people to the right people to speak to.

    Our meetings usually last 1 1/2 hours and have an informal agenda. The History Center in Ithaca has kindly provided us a place to meet, but our original meetings took place in the county recycling office, and sometimes in the offices of one or another municipal historian. Upcoming events and grant opportunities are made known.

    The meetings give everyone an opportunity to ask questions, to consider doing local history or to discuss what is being done for our local history. The group, which generally numbers between 13 and 20 participants, has also conducted some significant projects. We issued Place Names of Tompkins County, each working on our own sections, with a general editor and designer. The book has been out some time now and is popular. We are keeping updates for another edition.

    Together we created a set of brochures, one for each town in the county about the features of the towns of the county. This series has been lauded as a good example or content and design by tourism professionals.

    At meetings, we often discuss a topic to which all can contribute, expanding our understanding of history in our own municipalities and how that history reflects–or sometimes does not–the history of other close by places.

    Over the years, several members of the group have written books, engaged in innovative projects and have sought grant money for special events for their municipalities. Mostly, I believe, that the common discussions have brought about a greater understanding of what we can do, even if our positions are un-mandated and imprecise. Each brings her and his own strengths; together we develop additional interests and capabilities.

    Our pattern works for us: we have gotten to know each other; meetings are fun and interesting; everyone gets a chance to talk; we set common goals in addition to the goals of each historian. We laugh a good deal. We have developed a group friendship that means a great deal to me and I believe to others.

    This is not the only way historians within a county might function, but we find the give and take of knowing what a historian in another town is doing helpful, and often we can aid each other by offering a comparative perspective. We have found the common projects are useful to the
    public and appreciated, but in addition, while they represent “extra” work, they are also something we are all proud of.

    At our next meeting, I will ask the members about your blog post and we will pass along our ideas. You might note the issue on Doing History in New York State, edited by Bruce Dearstyne that appeared in The Public Historian. This issue of the journal creates a base line, showing where we are, what we might be doing, and what we would like to see happen in the state. I believe it is a significant document for us.

    Carol Kammen
    Tompkins County Historian

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  11. Barbara Kone

    I am enjoying this discussion from balmy North Carolina. I plan on being with you in March.

    My e-mail address and web site were created before the Municipality had theirs and are maintained independently. The Town’s website has a link to my site so I am available to anyone searching through the Town’s site.

    I am a member of APHNYS. My Town has been quite generous, so far, in their funding and provides the Historian’s Office a space in the “Historic” Town Hall in the former “High School Rooms”. Obtaining the use of this space was accomplished by a former historian. I have the funding to attend the APHNYS meetings, buy supplies, equipment, etc. as needed.

    I think my being actively engaged in preserving, documenting, and helping others learn of the Town’s History is one of the reasons my position receives the support from the Town that I do. I have published a History of the Town, organized a Bicentennial celebration, hold regular hours at the Historical Room, organize displays, speak to groups, write a monthly column in the local newsletter, etc. I try to keep “floating to the surface” every once in a while so I am not overlooked (like the year they “forgot” to issue my stipend check…I haven’t been “forgotten” since then.)

    I think my biggest job (or problem) is finding people who are willing to help…the volunteer pool seems to be dwindling in every area of the Town, whether it be for the Historical Room, Fire Department, Library, Ambulance, Boy Scouts, 4-H, etc. I no longer have a Deputy and the search for a replacement is not easy.

    I enjoy our meetings with the County Historian and the other historians in the county. We share ideas, and items we may come across. We work together on projects and the interaction is helpful in our development as historians. I am grateful for our County Historians leadership.

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  12. Heidi Bamford

    A very timely topic! Given the interest in Path Through History and the recent discussions over Local History in the classroom (ala Common Core). the role of the municipal historian needs to be better defined. At one time I also believe they had a role in helping to get local organizations chartered – or at least the State Historian’s Office was to issue charters – in our region, maybe elsewhere, chartering is now assigned to the local Regional Records Management Officers (RMOs) of the State Archives – who are more on the side of records management in their skill sets than of history. It is odd how some State officials insist on a strict division in funding between government (funded through the LGRMIF) and non-government (unfunded), but have no problem crossing those lines in matters of assigning duties and authorities.

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  13. Jack Eichenbaum

    Peter, I admire your Herculean work in organizing/lobbying for NYS history. But for myself, as a NYC resident, geographer and historian my primary focus, allegiances and affiliations are not to the very artificial boundaries of NYS but to the entire NYC metropolitan area (including much of NJ, some of CT and even a wedge of PA!) and to the historically very large cities of London and Paris, which inspired much than happened in NYC as well as contemporary very large cities (Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Mumbai) which are NYC’s competitors yet confront may of the same issues and frequently come together at symposia.

    I would guess that a similar situation exists to a lesser extent in the North Country (with Quebec, Ontario and Vermont), in Columbia County (with the Berkshires) and in Buffalo (with the Great Lakes)

    Do we regret the day when the British severed the New Netherlands colony centered on the Hudson River into New York and New Jersey causing political problems that continue to frustrate?

    Reply
  14. Walter Schwartz

    Peter – You performed a valuable service by presenting your information, posting your passion and positing your position on line, and I certainly agree with most of the comments you made. I also agree with many of the remarks by others who responded to your thoughts. And it doesn’t matter which of them I agree with more and which I agree with less. All the points are valid and the discussion generated is the most important. Thank you for being the instigator! The important thing is many of us are listening and reacting. We’ll never get all, that’s for sure, just like we won’t abolish the electoral system, although many feel that would be a great idea. May I remind you of the comments which I made at the Region 3 meeting in September (which, incidentally, was also organized by Karen Smith as Briarcliff Historian, myself as Ardsley Historian, and with the wonderful cooperation of Katie Hite and Patrick Raftery of the Westchester County Historical Society, in addition to Suzanne Isaksen. (I don’t need to see my name in print, but it is important to mention more names when that effort shows that there are actually a good number of us who are involved in one aspect or another of the process of getting historians together for an exchange of ideas.) When I got up to speak in Elmsford at the Region 3 meeting last month, I said that there was no competition in that room among the historians present, but there was a certain envy around the room–envy on the part of those historians who got little or no cooperation from their municipalities (in the way of funding, support, publicity, resources, etc.) for those who got much or greater cooperation. I also pointed out that we have to go public–and appear at a board meeting, as part of a municipal newsletter, by our annual report, and in any other way we can find, in order to make the case. And maybe by doing so, we will challenge other municipalities as well as our own, and other historians, historical societies or people who care about the history of their community to pick up and run with the cause.

    Walter Schwartz
    (Historian, Village of Ardsley in Westchester County)

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  15. Ron Schweiger

    Peter: Long before I was appointed to the position of Brooklyn Borough Historian in 2002, I was using the email address, Bklynremembered@aol.com. since so many people and organizations already had this address of mine, I saw no need to change it when I became the historian for Brooklyn. When Brooklyn Borough Hall business cards were being printed, I asked to keep my address. Newspaper reporters, TV stations, National Public Radio, historical organizations, community groups, etc., already had my contact information. Therefore, I saw no reason to change my email to end with, gov. Us five borough historians of New York City, try to meet every four months or so, on a rotating basis in each borough. We discuss what is happening historically in each of our boroughs. Because of our individual schedules, it’s not always easy to keep this agenda.
    Ron Schweiger
    Brooklyn Borough Historian
    Bklynremembered@aol.com

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