NYSHA Defunct: New York State Historical Association Is No More


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The Hancock House in TiconderogaAfter nearly 120 years, the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) is no more.  On March 13,  2017, the State Board of Regents approved NYSHA’s request to amend its charter to change its name to Fenimore Art Museum, revise its corporate purposes, designate the Commissioner of Education as agent for corporation service; and update the organization’s IRS dissolution language (pdf link).

The move follows years of debate over the role of the organization as a statewide advocate for the New York State History Community, a troubled history of publishing the State’s history journal New York History, and questions about NYSHA’s support for the long-standing annual spring meeting of the State’s historians, the Conference on New York State History.

NYSHA was founded in Lake George in 1899. Its first headquarters in Ticonderoga was donated in 1926 by Horace Moses. In 1944, NYSHA moved to Cooperstown following a substantial gift by Stephen Carlton Clark which was the basis of the Fenimore Art Museum.

“The name change was just an inevitable part of our institutional evolution that really began in the 1940s when NYSHA relocated to Cooperstown and began receiving art collections from Stephen Clark,” Fenimore and Farmer’s Museum President and CEO Paul D’Ambrosio told the New York History Blog via e-mail.

“The confusion over the NYSHA name (including the misconception that we were a state agency or the same organization as the New-York Historical Society), and the way in which it held the art museum back from achieving its potential (confusion from the art world as to who we were), were the primary reasons for the charter amendment,” D’Ambrosio said. “The reality is that the vast majority of our resources by necessity go toward running the art museum, and the museum is the experience we offer. The national importance of our art collections compels us to emphasize their care and access to the public, and our need for visitor engagement compels us to create a clear identity and an attractive museum destination.”

The New York State Historical Association began publishing a journal geared toward a popular and academic audience in 1919. It was first published as The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association, and since 1932 as New York History. The journal was highly praised under the editorship of Wendell Tripp, from 1964 until his retirement in 1999. The journal has struggled in recent decades, missing some issues, and moving to a subscription only pdf format published three times per year. Financially supported by NYSHA, but produced and edited by SUNY Oneonta since 2012, the journal has been scaled back over the years to book reviews and academic articles. D’Ambrosio said no decision has been made on whether the Feminore Art Museum will support the journal New York History beyond 2017.

NYSHA.org, the organization’s website, has been taken down and now redirects to the Fenimore Art Museum, but D’Ambrosio says that the Fenimore Art Museum has a statewide role to play in issues affecting the New York State History Community.

“We continue to have a voice on matters of policy regarding the study of history and the humanities generally,” D’Ambrosio said. “I am a member of the NYS Historian’s History Advisory Group and am a strong advocate for collaboration among a variety of stakeholders to advance the goals of the history community. We will likely become more active in the arts community with Fenimore Art Museum coming into its own.”

“Importantly, one of our new charter purposes will be to provide cultural enrichment for our region in the areas of art, culture, and history. This will allow us to continue to operate the Research Library and provide service to local historians, researchers, and the public here in Cooperstown. It will also allow us to continue to sponsor National History Day,” D’Ambrosio told The New York History Blog.

NYSHA, through its journal’s editorial board, also awarded some of the state’s history major annual history prizes. The Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize had been awarded by the organization annually to the author of the best unpublished, book-length monograph dealing with the history of New York State. NYSHA also awarded the Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogs of Distinction in the Arts, and The Paul S. Kerr History Prize, awarded annually to the best article published in New York History. D’Ambrosio said the editorial board is scheduled to meet in June to decide the awards for 2017, which will be presented at the Fenimore Art Museum’s annual meeting in July.

NYSHA was also a driving force in the annual spring conference of historians in New York State, the Conference on New York State History, but that conference has also now come to an end. Last year’s Conference on New York History (2016) was held in November in conjunction with the University at Albany Department of History’s Researching New York conference. Unless another organization steps forward, there will be no spring 2017 Conference on New York State History. D’Ambrosio said the Art Museum will however, support the Researching New York conference this November.

“The journal and the conference are more complicated, but we are not pulling out of either for now,” he said. “We will sponsor the conference in Albany this November as planned, and will work with the journal editors to evaluate where we stand and what our options may be. No decisions have been made at this point.”

The dissolution of NYSHA will not affect the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown’s season schedule or the operation of the Research Library. The Farmers’ Museum has a separate governing board and charter.

Photo: The Hancock House in Ticonderoga, first headquarters of the New York State Historical Association.

9 thoughts on “NYSHA Defunct: New York State Historical Association Is No More

  1. Gayle Ann

    How long before they sell off the library holdings? A summer book sale on the front lawn, or ebay? How long before things such as the store ledgers simply disappear?

    Reply
  2. Coline Jenkins

    Dear Powers to Be,

    On face value, the murder, silencing, defunding, evisceration (choose your noun) of the New York State Historical Association is one of the stupidest idea I have encountered recently. (There is plenty of competition.) Let’s start with New York State’s “I love New York” campaign that needs a basis to stand. Slogans without content are flighty at best.

    Shore up history – the treasure of New York, the USA, and our world.

    Onward,

    Coline Jenkins
    Great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    Reply
  3. Jonathan B. Richards II

    Dear Mr. John Warren,From the point of view of a plainsman from Missouri this appears to be a major decision , one which will affect both the art and historical preservation arenas in New York State and nationally. Please keep us informed on developments going forward. Thank you, Jonathan Richards

    Reply
  4. Ellen Apperson Brown

    I’m glad to have this summary of what happened, and why. It has been hard, as a writer and historian living out-of-state, to figure out what organizations are doing, and where to turn for support for my research interests. From my perspective, there is no museum or archive that is supporting the research that is needed with regard to the Adirondack Park. I don’t think that the Adirondack Museum or the Kelly Adirondack Center, for example, are ready to shoulder that load. As an independent scholar, I keep looking for a place where I can come to share my knowledge, and learn from others about various chapters of Adirondack history. But thank you, John, for the work you do. Ellen Apperson Brown (author – John Apperson’s Lake George, Arcadia Publishers)

    Reply
  5. Shawn Purcell

    Needless to say, cultural institutions have to stay relevant (and solvent), and should always be re-evaluating their mission, but this troubling development is far more than a “name change.” Why shouldn’t such an important state be represented by two different historical organizations, so what if a few people mistakenly thought NYSHA was a state agency, and won’t visitors and researchers be even more confused now that the wonderful Farmers’ Museum across the street is under the banner of the Fenimore Art Museum, mixing manure and paint on the same canvas, as it were?

    To say the historical mission “held the art museum back from achieving its potential” begs the opposite viewpoint. It was a nice mix before–physical agricultural history, New York State history (important publications, statewide conferences and related initiatives, and the Research Library), and worldwide art. The bottom line here is probably that a handful of people in charge prefer the atmosphere, clientele, and economic potential of the latter, and waited a decent interval after the passing of Wendell Tripp and his ilk to pull this off.

    It appears that all concerned stakeholders can do at this late juncture is hope the powers that be do right by the former NYSHA library and research staff going forward, in addition to whatever relatively minor ceremonial functions it will still be able to muster. Museums are a hundred times “sexier” though. What’s happened to the State Library compared to the State Museum in the last ten to fifteen years in terms of staffing etc. is a perfect example of this phenomenon (insert alternative-facts refutation here), though needless to say all cultural institutions should receive sufficient support for their highly important missions.

    Reply
  6. Glenn PearsallGlenn L. Pearsall

    When researching my Civil War novel “Leaves Torn Asunder” I was in regular contact with the folks at the NYS Historical Association in Cooperstown. In appreciation of their professional help and encouragement, I indicated that I would like to gift them appreciated stock. No one ever got back to me. They had an important mission and seemed to be staff with quality people , but a group clearly lacking in business acumen and fund raising.

    Reply
  7. Lee Wright

    I hate to see this sort of thing happen for several reasons.

    In terms of the state conference, although I never attended, I would be happy to discuss a different model, one that’s been used with good results in Boston and elsewhere. This is a good introduction: http://historycamp.org/about. (Full disclosure: I founded History Camp.)

    As you can see, it’s a big departure for traditionalists: It’s run by volunteers, is designed to simply break even, and it’s open to anyone to present and to attend.

    It’s also been a hit. As an example, on December 12 we opened registration for History Camp Boston, which took place on March 18, and we were sold out by January 1.

    Browse the sessions from History Camp Boston 2017 and you’ll get a sense of the quality and the variety: HistoryCamp.org/Boston.

    If there’s interest in discussing, please let me know. We’ve introduced this same model in other cities–most recently in Denver where History Camp Colorado sold out in its first year–and I’m sure it would be just as successful in New York

    Reply
  8. William Hosley

    This is part of a continuing pattern of exodus and abandonment of American history – a discipline less central to secondary school education than it was years ago and with fewer majors in college – 30, 20 & 10 year ago. The weirdest unreported story is how many historical orgs – including rich ones with vast historical resources – are turning themselves into arts orgs!? Part of the problem is the undiscussed difference between the work of public history (mostly practiced at the local level) and academic history (is there single one anywhere who proudly describes themselves as a “local historian” as I do?). Great men, great events, identify politics and the inevitable insiders game where academics (some not all – but they’re never scolded by their peers for it) talk in tongues to one another in obscure and pretentious language? The dirty little secret or our time and what’s sadly missing from the otherwise useful and necessary #HistoryRelevance campaign is the full on assertion that “local is the the level that matters most.” NYSHA had a huge niche that needed a visionary champion. What you do with this blog is what they could have done years ago but jettisoning the costly 20th c convention of print journals. Fortunately the Farmers Museum is still unmistakably NY-centric – which is good, not because NYS is so great (though of course it is) but because it telegraphs the power of the local – a message I would say has been foundational to the Cooperstown graduate programs success. I am all for art and I visit the Fenimore Museum often enough and always enjoy it. Of course I especially like the NY-centricity of its art collection – as it should be. No government agency with or without an advisory council can possibly fill this void and God knows NY Historical Society – does’t even pretend to be predominately NY-centric, ironic as that may sound. They apparently see themselves as THE place for capital-H History in NYC. So the troops on the ground must keep marching. Help me find an audience this because its a powerful summary of evidence and argument for what makes NYS history such a gift to this nation and why local really is the level that matters most. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/140456082110837132/

    Reply
  9. Phil Terrie

    Just saw this. How depressing. Knew there was something amiss when NYH ceased paper publication. As an asst. professor, I published one of my first scholarly articles in NYH, in 1981. The estimable Wendell Tripp was the editor. He had the time, patience, and energy to work closely with me on my ms., improving it (and me as a writer) at every step. The editing process even included a lengthy phone call, during which we discussed the article down to the sentence level. How many young scholars get that sort of attention today? None, I’ll bet.

    Reply

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