Author Archives: Bruce Dearstyne

Bruce Dearstyne

About Bruce Dearstyne

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne served on the staff of the New York State Office of State History and the State Archives. He was a professor and is now an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies and has written widely about New York history and occasionally writes about New York history issues for the “Perspective” section of the Sunday Albany Times Union. Bruce is the author of two books published in 2015: The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History (SUNY Press) and also Leading the Historical Enterprise: Strategic Creativity, Planning and Advocacy for the Digital Age (Rowman and Littlefield and the AASLH). He can bereached at dearstyne@verizon.net.

Making History Public: A Virginia Example


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New York has many programs that promote public interest in, and understanding of, history. Their initiatives and accomplishments are often reported here on the New York History Blog. But readers of the Blog might be interested in taking a look at the work of Virginia historian Edward Ayers, former president of the University of Richmond where he now teaches history, as another example of how to deepen public understanding of history and bring history into public discussions.

Ayers established the new online site, BUNK HISTORY, profiled in this recent post here on the New York History Blog. The site features articles from the press and web sources presenting historical perspectives on current events. Continue reading

State Museum Exhibits Capture the Spirit of New York


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The New York State Museum’s exhibits are always outstanding. But the three special exhibits at the Museum now – on the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, New York State in World War I, and the centennial of woman suffrage in our state – are unprecedented and exceptionally strong. It is worth a trip to Albany just to see them.

The storylines and captions are superb, with clear development and explanations, enough text to tell the stories, but not so much that visitors’ interest will wane. The artifacts, photos, and documents are engaging, even dramatic. For instance, the canal exhibit features a reconstruction of a “windlass” – a large apparatus for lifting cargo from canal boats into a warehouse. It is a restoration of a 19th century windlass located by Museum staff some years ago in Mohawk, New York, dismantled, moved to Albany, and carefully restored and reassembled. Continue reading

Initiatives for Putting History to Work


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This New York History Blog often carries posts about historical exhibits and events designed to bring historical perspective to current events. Providing historical context for the public might be called “putting history to work.”

Historian Edward L. Ayres, president emeritus of the University of Richmond and the current president of the Organization of American Historians, has launched a new online project, sponsored by the University, called BUNKHISTORY. The project is meant to confront Henry Ford’s famous 1916 statement that “History is more or less bunk” by showing its relevance and importance.

The project combs the internet for interesting articles, maps, videos, etc. “to create a fuller and more honest portrayal of our shared past, and reveal the extent to which every representation is part of a longer conversation.” Continue reading

William Seward’s and Horatio Seymour’s Gettysburg Addresses


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The dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, is mostly remembered for the short speech that President Abraham Lincoln delivered there that day. At the time, however, most of the public attention went to a much longer, formal oration by Edward Everett, former Massachusetts governor, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State.

But there were other speakers at Gettysburg as well, including two New Yorkers, Secretary of State (and former U.S. Senator and governor) William H. Seward, and Governor Horatio Seymour.

At the time, Seward and Seymour were nationally recognized and influential leaders and their short speeches were widely noted and reprinted in the press. Continue reading

New York State History in the Post-NYSHA Era


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New York missed its 240th birthday on April 22, the date the first state constitution was promulgated and the state came into existence in 1777. There were no official commemorations so far as I know. This would have been a particularly opportune time for attention to the state’s founding document since New Yorkers will be voting in November on whether to authorize a constitutional convention to revise or replace the current one. This fall would be a good time to commemorate other events, including the election of the first governor and legislature and the launching of the state’s government in the first capital, Kingston, by the end of 1777.

These potential opportunities to promote state and local history point again to the need for a statewide history association, committee or group to supplement the excellent work being done by the State Historian, the State Museum, the State Archives and other public history programs.

Maybe what we need is something to replace NYSHA. Continue reading

New Canadian History Hall: A Study in History Museum Development


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Canadian History HallThe Canadian Museum of History opened its Canadian History Hall in Gatineau, near the capital, Ottawa, on July 1. The date was the 150st anniversary of the establishment of the Dominion of Canada as a self-governing entity within the British Empire; in effect, Canada’s birthday. Creating the new Hall took five years of planning and development, including town hall meetings to solicit input from people across Canada on what should be represented in the history museum and how it should be represented.

The Hall aims to tell all of Canada’s history, from the beginning of human habitation to the present, about 15,000 years. It is intended to strengthen Canadian identity and culture and is a key part of the Canadian Museum of History’s slogan: “YOUR COUNTRY. YOUR HISTORY. YOUR MUSEUM.” Continue reading

Philip Schuyler: A Time to Remember


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Philip Schuyler 1881A recent post on here on The New York History Blog previewed Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton events at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site this month.

A recent article by Paul Grondahl, Director of the New York State Writer’s Institute, in the Albany Times Union noted that Schuyler Mansion is experiencing a spike in attendance due to the “Hamilton effect” – “a mysterious affliction created by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical that altered the lives of countless unsuspecting fans with a powerful history lesson embedded in hypnotic, rhyming lyrics and a hip-hop beat.”

It is notable that Hamilton, Schuyler’s son-in-law, who spent only a few years at Schuyler Mansion, is boosting popular attendance there. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Dave McCullough and the Uses of History


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The American SpiritPulitzer-prize winning author David McCullough has published a new book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017).

It is a bit of a disappointment in some ways — there is no overarching essay on the American spirit, and the book itself is actually a collection of commencement talks and other speeches by the author over the years rather than new work.

But like all of McCullough’s works, the book is stimulating and worth reading for its perspectives and insights, its eloquent writing, and particularly for the way it makes the case for the values of history. Continue reading

New Book on Environmental Movement Illustrates Uses of History


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Climate of HopeA new book by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former executive director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope illustrates some interesting uses of history.

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Business and Citizens Can Save the Planet (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017) discusses how cities, businesses, and individuals can take action to confront global warming and improve the environment. There are lots of interesting examples and proposals. But these three themes may be of particular interest to readers of The New York History Blog. Continue reading

New York History: Reaching Out to Social Studies Teachers


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Historical societies, history museums, and local government Historians often seek ways to expand the range of people they reach and serve. They might want to consider expanding their work of reaching out to and cooperating with school social studies teachers. We also need more opportunities for the state’s history community and its social studies community to dialog with each other. Continue reading