The position of New York State Historian was created in 1895. The Historian was appointed by the Governor until 1911, when the position was moved to the State Education Department. Since that time, it has been located in a number of offices including the Office of State History (1966-1976), and since then, in the State Museum.
State Historians’ job descriptions and priorities have varied over the years as well. The first State Historian, Hugh Hastings (1895-1907), had been a New York Times reporter and concentrated on documentary publications. The next one, Victor Hugo Paltsits (1907-1911), a librarian and expert in colonial history, was known for meticulous editing of published editions and laid the basis for expanding the position into the area of archives. Alexander C. Flick (1923-1939) edited and led the publication of a multi-volume history of the state. Louis L. Tucker (1966-1976) held the titles of State Historian and Assistant Commissioner for State History in the Office of State History and, in the early 1970’s, was also Executive Director of the New York State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. Continue reading
The annual New York State History Conference, held at the end of June at Niagara University, demonstrated once again the robust diversity of the state’s historical community and its research, projects, and initiatives. There were many interesting sessions but I wanted to share impressions of five particularly interesting and important themes.
Cooperation. Paul D’Ambrosio, President of the New York State Historical Association, in welcoming conference attendees, emphasized the essential role of cooperation in sponsoring, organizing, and managing the conference. Continue reading
A recent article “Made in New York: The Empire State at War,” in the Albany Times Union by Civil War historian Bill Howard reminded readers of New York’s central importance in the Civil War.
Howard noted, among other things, that New York governor Edwin Morgan began mobilizing troops for the war even before the surrender of Fort Sumter, enlisted about 450,000 soldiers during the war (more than half of the state’s population under 30), was a major supplier of arms and other war materials. Howard analyzes several other New York contributions and concludes that “the war could not have been won without New York’s contributions.” Continue reading
How useful are historical insights in addressing a state’s problems?
California is experiencing a historic drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered a 25% reduction in the use of water with some exceptions, e.g., certain types of agriculture. As California endures this crisis, how helpful is historical insight in both understanding it and charting a way forward? So far, the results are mixed. Continue reading
It’s not too early to start planning for New York State History Month in November. One of the themes that the state’s history community might consider this year is reform in New York State. There are few better examples of a New York reform leader than Elizabeth Cady Stanton and November 15 is the bicentennial of her birth.
She was born Elizabeth Cady in Johnstown on November 15, 1815. She observed how the law treated women as subordinate to men through observing the work of her father, an attorney and judge. She derived a hatred of slavery and confidence in political change from her cousin, Gerrit Smith, who lived in nearby Peterboro. She married a leading abolitionist, Henry Stanton, in 1840, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton was always independent, opinionated, determined, sometimes headstrong, never resting. Continue reading
The indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges is the latest manifestation of corruption in the New York State legislature. Since 2000, about 25 state lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues. U. S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, who brought the charges against Silver, says the legislature is a “cauldron of corruption.” Governor Andrew Cuomo established a controversial, short-lived Moreland Commission to deal with corruption and has inserted an ethics package in his proposed budget to force the legislative reform.
Bhahara’s sweeping characterization of the legislature is exaggerated. Over the years, the New York’s legislature has been one of the most important in the nation, usually keeping our state at the forefront of minority rights, social reform, and progressive policies. Throughout history, though, there have always been a few corrupt legislators who violate the laws and public trust. But legislative wrongdoing is probably no worse today than it was many times in our history. Continue reading
In early February 1826, Carey & Lea, one of the nation’s most prominent and successful publishers, announced the publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. Cooper was already a best-selling author, widely hailed for presenting non-stop, exciting adventures set in the wilderness, wartime, or other bracing settings. Carey & Lea, hoping that his new book would do as well as his previous ones, had paid the author a $5,000 advance.
They were not to be disappointed. The Last of the Mohicans was an instant best-seller, reprinted many times, made into movies a number of times, and became one of the most important books in American literary history. Continue reading
There is lots of discussion these days about the “power of place” – the importance of geography and the influence of locales and surroundings. The concept dovetails naturally with local history, which explores the historical development of communities.
New York is in an excellent position to explore the connection between the power of place and local history. Our state has hundreds of local historical societies and other public history programs and is the only state in the nation with officially designated local historians. Continue reading
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December to ban the use of hydrofracking in New York State was politically astute. The governor asserted he is merely following the recommendations in a new report from the State Health Department, A Public Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.
That report, based on four years of research, is also politically judicious. It avoids condemning hydrofracking or sensationalizing its potential health risks. Instead, it concludes that “the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information” studied for the report demonstrates that there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF [High Volume Hydraulic Fracking], the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impact which could adversely affect public health.” The 184-page report is buttressed by 74 references, mostly well-documented studies and reports from the past few years. Continue reading
Four recent news items have pointed to the resource limitations that history programs face but also to the potential for new sources of support.
The first was the radio interview with Dr. Charles Gehring, the long-time translator of the Dutch colonial records held by the State Library and State Archives. Gehring confirmed the immense historical research importance of these records. His discussion of the records’ value reinforced the importance of New York’s Dutch origins. Continue reading
The recent revival of “Evacuation Day” – November 25, 1783, the day British military forces left New York City at the end of the Revolution – is a reminder of New York City’s resilience. The city had been occupied for several years but soon after the British left and New Yorkers got control of their city, it began a recovery and remarkable upward trajectory.
“Resilience” is an often-used term these days. Andrew Zoli and Annmarie Healy’s 2012 book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back summarized recent scholarship and help popularize the term. Continue reading
New York State History Month (November) is just over half through. November was designated in statute in 1997 as State History Month but it has been mostly ignored, until this year.
Last year, State Historian Bob Weible wrote a post in these pages entitled “Is NYS History Month Dead?” which suggested using the month for public history events. Thanks to Bob’s leadership and initiative, State History Month now has a higher visibility and momentum, as described in his recent follow-up. Continue reading
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion here on The New York History Blog about the status and role of local government historians, including, for instance, a summary of a special issue of the journal Public Historian three years ago on the status of history in New York State, and, most recently, Peter Feinman’s post “The State of Municipal Historians,” which resulted in many comments.
Local government historians are unique to New York State. They give us an edge over other states in the local history arena. Their potential is immense. But their status and role need to be strengthened. Continue reading
November is New York State History Month, designated by Section 52.04 of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law as the time “to celebrate the history of New York state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.”
This is the perfect time to get some well-deserved recognition for officially designated local government historians, historical societies, and others who are preserving, interpreting, and presenting state and local history. It should be a particularly good opportunity for local government historians — their appointments are authorized by law and State History Month is designated by law. Continue reading
One of the news items in a recent summary of “This Week’s Top New York History News” here at The New York History Blog had a link to an article from the Albany Times Union (reprinted from the New York Times), entitled “New York Won’t Celebrate 350th Birthday.” The article noted that neither the city nor the state was commemorating the takeover of New Netherland by the British in August, 1664.
The writer suggested that “a dispassion for the past” among the public was a basic explanation. Continue reading
How, and how much, should New York’s young people learn about the history of their own state and community?
The answer to the question of what young people learn about history comes down mostly to what they learn in school social studies classes. New York revised its social studies curriculum from 2012 to 2014 and you can review the results, adopted by the Regents last April online. There is more New York history at the 4th grade level than in the older standards, but almost nothing about local history. Continue reading
Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s bill (A. 6226A) to create a Commission on New York State History would help coordinate state programs and elevate and strengthen public history in New York.
“The state’s historical assets are world class destinations for visitors from around the world and should be promoted as such,” the bill declares. “Having the management, interpretation and promotion of the state’s historical assets spread among several agencies and departments has often been detrimental to the full utilization of these assets for the people of the state.” Continue reading
Last week, Assemblyman Steve Englebright held a “roundtable” on his bill to create a Commission on New York State History (Assembly 6226-A) at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
I was unaware of the bill before being invited to attend and speak at the meeting, but was very encouraged after reading the bill, and even more encouraged after hearing from Assemblyman Englebright. The proposed Commission is the most promising development in state and local history policy in several years.
The bill has the potential to lead and coordinate activities and programs that now operate mostly in isolation from each other, provide support and advice for historical programs, strengthen the role of officially designated local historians, foster more extensive and creative use of public history, encourage the use of technology, help with heritage tourism, and overall strengthen the state’s historical enterprise. Continue reading
Peter Feinman and Tom Shanahan’s recent posts (1, 2) on lobbing were very informative and enlightening. To make progress, though, the state’s historical community would need at least three things.
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.” Continue reading
Should New York students learn about the history of their own state in New York schools?
The question has not been resolved. The State Education Department has been seeking reactions to the latest draft of the New York State Common Core K-12 Social Studies Framework.
The current social studies curriculum dates from the 1990’s. A draft revision completed in 2012 was discussed a number of times in this New York State History Blog over the past couple of years. Continue reading