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 forthcoming 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).

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

Should We Teach NY State and Local History?


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If you have an opinion on whether or not New York State and local history should be taught in our public schools, now is the time to speak up.

As noted on September 17 here at the online news magazine New York History, the State Education Department has released a draft version of the “New York State Common Core K-8 Social Studies Framework” for review and comment until October 11 [online]. There is a link there for people to submit comments. After revision, the document will go to the Board of Regents for adoption as state education policy. Continue reading

Bridges And New York History


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New York State has approximately 17,000 highway bridges. They are essential for traveling around our state and connecting our communities. About 37% are “functionally obsolete” or “structurally deficient,” according to DOT, a reminder of the need for continuing investment to maintain valuable resources.

Bridges – old and new – are part of community and state history. The story of three historically significant bridges shows various connections to history. Continue reading

Teaching New York History: Three Frameworks


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The revision of the New York State social studies curriculum should involve, or call on the expertise of, many individuals and historical groups, or they should consider proactively advancing their suggestions. Peter Feinman’s recent post included the resolutions of the annual meeting in March of the New York State Social Studies Council, articulating the concerns of social studies teachers and reaffirming the importance of social studies. Continue reading

Downton Abbey and Hudson Valley Historic Houses


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Many people are fascinated by the serial British drama “Downton Abbey”, currently airing on PBS. The Abbey is a fictional mansion in Yorkshire, the home of a fictional family, the Granthams, and their servant staff, during the early 20th century. It is an entertaining tale of love, intrigue, loyalty, betrayal, triumph, and tragedy! And it has generated, or at least been accompanied by, new books on the real history of the time, including Jessica Fellows, The World of Downton Abbey and the Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. Continue reading