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

A Source of New Ideas for Historic Preservation

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Historic preservation is a very important element of local history. There is a good deal of literature on the topic. But every now and then there is a new book which advances fresh ideas and puts the issue in a new light.

One such new book is Stephanie Meeks’ The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities (Washington: Island Press, 2016). Meeks is President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She has made a number of presentations about the book where you can see the book’s major points. Continue reading

Why New York Fought the Civil War

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recruitsWe will celebrate Presidents’ Day next month, on February 20. But we don’t celebrate Governors’ Day or anything similar. If we did, we might note the contributions of New York’s three Civil War governors — Edwin Morgan (R, 1859-1863) Horatio Seymour (D, 1863-1865) and Reuben Fenton (R, 1865-1869). All three were nationally known leaders at the time. Seymour was a critic of the wartime draft and other Lincoln administration domestic policies. Morgan and Fenton both went on to become United States Senators from our state, where they also played leadership roles. Seymour ran for president in 1868, losing to Ulysses S. Grant. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: The New York Statehood Trail

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1777 New York State ConstitutionAs discussed in a previous post on this New York History Blog, the state’s historical community might want to consider organizing an effort to commemorate New York State’s Birthday.

We could use April 20, the date the first State Constitution was completed in Kingston in 1777, or April 22, the date it was first read and officially proclaimed, bringing the new state into existence. This would give us an opportunity each year not only to review New York State’s historical origins, but also to call public attention to various aspects of the state’s 240+ years of history.

We might want to consider designating a historical driving trail, a good fit for the I Love New York’s heritage tourism “Path Through History” program, perhaps calling it the New York Statehood Trail. “Path Through History” has its own list of Revolutionary War sites. Continue reading

Commemorating New York State’s Birthday in 2017

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New-York-State-Map1New York State officially came into existence on April 20, 1777, with the approval of the first state constitution by the Convention of Representatives of the State of New York in Kingston.

New York’s fourth New York Provincial Congress, elected the previous year, had changed its name to a group representing the State of New York which, technically, did not even exist until the new constitution was written and promulgated. The document, however, declared that the Convention had acted “in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State.” Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Remembering and Forgetting History

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NYS MapGovernments are often challenged in developing policies about what to emphasize in public history programs such as statues and commemorations, and what to leave out, neglect, or relegate to the shadows. A few examples that may be of interest:


In March of this year, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill to prevent local governments from taking down monuments to the Confederacy. The issue is a sensitive one, especially so this year. McAuliffe framed it as an issue of the state needing to let communities decide on a case-by- case basis. Continue reading

A New Phase For New York’s Historical Enterprise?

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Cultural Education Center State Museum ArchivesThere is encouraging evidence that we may be moving toward a turning point for New York’s historical enterprise.

During the last several months:

The Education Department made the State Historian an independent, full-time position. This is unlike the previous situation, where the State Historian, Bob Weible, also served as Chief History Curator of the State Museum. In effect, that was two jobs rolled into one. The curatorial work left little time for the state history work. Creating a new, dedicated position required approval of the Director of the State Museum, the Commissioner of Education and the Division of the Budget. Those are positive signs of interest and support. Continue reading

Harriet Tubman: The Long Road To The $20 Bill

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harriet tubman on the 20In April, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Harriet Tubman will be featured on the front of new $20 bills. Tubman is the first woman to appear on modern U.S. currency. She displaces former president Andrew Jackson, whose image will move to the back of the bill.

Lew’s decision came after a year’s discussion, including soliciting public input, on images for redesigned currency. Continue reading