After 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.