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

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

New Approaches for Historical Societies and History Museums

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Many of the posts in this New York History Blog report on new exhibits, public programs, outreach to schools, and other initiatives. This variety of initiatives reflects the fact that here in New York we have some of the most progressive, innovative programs in the nation.

But are there really any new ideas out there – new ways of looking at and carrying out our mission as historical societies, history museums, and other public history programs? Continue reading

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