Author Archives: Bruce Dearstyne

Bruce Dearstyne

About Bruce Dearstyne

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne lives in Guilderland. Dearstyne is a former professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, where he is now an Adjunct Professor. Before joining the Maryland faculty, he held positions at the New York State Archives and the Office of State History. He is the author of The Spirit of New York: Sixteen Events That Changed History, forthcoming from SUNY Press early in 2015. He is also the author of Railroads and Railroad Regulation in New York State, 1900-1913 and joint author of New York: Yesterday and Today. He served as guest editor of a special issue of the journal Public Historian on “Strengthening the Management of State History: Issues, Perspectives, and Insights from New York” (August 2011). He also writes occasional essays on New York State history issues for the “Perspective” section of the Sunday Albany Times Union.

November Is New York State History Month


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New York State History MonthNovember 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

Ignoring New York’s 350th Birthday


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Articles about the Transfer of New Netherland on the 27th of August, Old Style, Anno 1664One 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

Bruce Dearstyne: New York History And Education


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State Education Building by Matt Wade Photography (Wikimedia User UpstateNYer)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

Bruce Dearstyne:
Do We Need A State History Commission?


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nycapitolAssemblyman 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

Bruce Dearstyne: The Proposed NYS History Commission


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nycapitolLast 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

Bruce Dearstyne On Lobbying at Albany


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nycapitolPeter 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

Common Core: New York History in New York Schools


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SchoolShould 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

Bruce Dearstyne: Creativity and Leadership


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Creativity in Museum PracticePosts here on The New York History Blog reveal a lot about the creativity and leadership of the individuals who direct the programs that comprise New York’s historical enterprise. Creativity, broadly defined, refers to derivation of new ideas that help organizations do existing work better or take on new things. Leadership is mostly about strengthening programs and guiding them into the future.

Creative leaders, said an IBM study a few years ago, “embrace the dynamic tension between creative disruption and operational efficiency… encourage others to drop outmoded approaches and take balanced risk.” They “embark on transforming tomorrow into what was once never thought possible.”

Many of our programs could benefit from that kind of boost.

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New York State History Month: What Can We Do?


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poster1997lgNovember is New York State History Month. The purpose, according to Section 52.02 of the state Arts and Cultural Affairs Law is to “celebrate the history of New York State and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.”

State Historian Bob Weible’s very informative October 22 post on the history of History Month reminds us that “its fate really depends on us.”

That’s certainly true for History Month, and true for the future of the historical enterprise generally. Continue reading

Concerted Action to Strengthen the Historical Enterprise: What Others Are Doing


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NYSPeter Feinman’s September 18th post describes discussions leading toward more cooperation, a more concerted approach to the historical enterprise here in New York, and hopefully a meeting to get things going.

That is a very encouraging development.

The needs, and opportunities, for cooperative action have been under discussion at least since the plenary session at the state history conference in Plattsburgh in 2009 on “Do We Need a Vision for New York State History?” Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Reaffirming the Power of Place


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02floor-googleicon-blog480Many people in New York’s history community work every day to affirm, interpret, and present the stories of the distinctiveness of their communities and their histories. Local history is very powerful. “Local history allows many interpretations,” write Carol Kammen and Amy H. Wilson in the introduction to the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Local History (2013). “It is flexible and it is not just national history writ small as some have suggested. Local history is the study of past events, or of people or groups, in a given geographic area – a study based on a wide variety of documentary evidence and placed in a comparative context that should be both regional and national.”

There is considerable recent evidence of the continuing power of place. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: History, Humanities and Social Sciences


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hssReportCoverReaders of the New York History blog may be interested in a new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive and Secure Nation”.  It explores the need for more support for the humanities and social sciences, particularly in education.

“The humanities remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going,” says the report. “Emphasizing critical perspective and imaginative response, the humanities – including the study of languages, literature, history, film, civics, philosophy, religion and the arts – foster creativity, appreciation of our commonalities and our differences, and knowledge of all times. The social sciences reveal patterns in our lives, over time and in the present moment.”

Some of the examples are rooted in history. Continue reading

New York History Community: A Time for Action?


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New York State CountiesThis seems like a very opportune time for an initiative to strengthen state and local history here in New York.

Carol Kammen’s response to Peter’s Feinman’s post on the “Path Through History” initiative suggests creation of an advisory board and the use of electronic communications to stay in touch and inform New Yorkers about history. That is an excellent proposal and the timing is right for a new push in the public history era for several reasons: Continue reading

NY Public Historians: Looking Back, Looking Ahead


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albany_state_education_buildingApril 11, 2013 marks the 94th anniversary of Governor Al Smith’s signing the law that established New York’s system of local government Historians (Laws of 1919, Ch. 181). Smith was a history-minded leader.

As an Assemblyman, he had sponsored the bill in 1911 that moved the State Historian’s office to the State Education Department and initiated the state’s local government records program. In 1919, his first year as governor, he was preparing to reorganize and modernize state government.

His approval of the Historians’ Law was a milestone event. New York was, and still is, the only state in the nation to declare preservation and dissemination of local history to be a public purpose so important that it is embodied in statute.
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Bringing Neglected New York History to Light


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Erie - Champlain Canal Junction (Courtesy American Canals)New York’s long, rich, and vibrant state and local history has long been a source of pride and inspiration. As items on this website repeatedly confirm, there are many programs that provide creative interpretation and presentation of key events and developments.

But over the years, the New York historical community, particularly in publishing books, has sometimes tended to concentrate on certain topics and neglect or minimize others.
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Connecting History And Public Policy


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Four recent developments remind us of the opportunities to tie history to other initiatives here in New York. Doing that successfully will continue to require leadership, persistence, and imagination.

*New York pride…and history? The New York State Economic Development Corporation is running ads in business journals to attract businesses to the state. The ads link to the Development Corporation’s Web Site. The ads say, among other things: Continue reading

Public History and Debate of Public Issues


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How important is “public history?”

The essay on public history in the newly published second edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History, provides some fresh insights. The Encyclopedia, edited by Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen, a long-time leader in the field, and Amy H. Wilson, an independent museum consultant and former director of the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira, is  a rich source of fresh insights on all aspects of local history. Continue reading