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.

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Bicentennial


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Elizabeth Cady Stanton circa 1880It’s not too early to start planning for New York State History Month in November. One of the themes that the state’s history community might consider this year is reform in New York State. There are few better examples of a New York reform leader than Elizabeth Cady Stanton and November 15 is the bicentennial of her birth.

She was born Elizabeth Cady in Johnstown on November 15, 1815. She observed how the law treated women as subordinate to men through observing the work of her father, an attorney and judge. She derived a hatred of slavery and confidence in political change from her cousin, Gerrit Smith, who lived in nearby Peterboro. She married a leading abolitionist, Henry Stanton, in 1840, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton was always independent, opinionated, determined, sometimes headstrong, never resting. Continue reading

Corruption in the Legislature: A Sense of Déjà Vu?


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nycapitolThe indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges is the latest manifestation of corruption in the New York State legislature. Since 2000, about 25 state lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues. U. S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, who brought the charges against Silver, says the legislature is a “cauldron of corruption.” Governor Andrew Cuomo established a controversial, short-lived Moreland Commission to deal with corruption and has inserted an ethics package in his proposed budget to force the legislative reform.

Bhahara’s sweeping characterization of the legislature is exaggerated. Over the years, the New York’s legislature has been one of the most important in the nation, usually keeping our state at the forefront of minority rights, social reform, and progressive policies. Throughout history, though, there have always been a few corrupt legislators who violate the laws and public trust.  But legislative wrongdoing is probably no worse today than it was many times in our history. Continue reading

Last of the Mohicans: Fiction Trumps History


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First edition Last of the mohicansIn early February 1826, Carey & Lea, one of the nation’s most prominent and successful publishers, announced the publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. Cooper was already a best-selling author, widely hailed for presenting non-stop, exciting adventures set in the wilderness, wartime, or other bracing settings. Carey & Lea, hoping that his new book would do as well as his previous ones, had paid the author a $5,000 advance.

They were not to be disappointed. The Last of the Mohicans was an instant best-seller, reprinted many times, made into movies a number of times, and became one of the most important books in American literary history. Continue reading

Local History And The Power of Place


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teaching geographyThere is lots of discussion these days about the “power of place” – the importance of geography and the influence of locales and surroundings. The concept dovetails naturally with local history, which explores the historical development of communities.

New York is in an excellent position to explore the connection between the power of place and local history. Our state has hundreds of local historical societies and other public history programs and is the only state in the nation with officially designated local historians. Continue reading

The Fracking Report In Historical Perspective


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George Bellows - Up the Hudson (1908)Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December to ban the use of hydrofracking in New York State was politically astute. The governor asserted he is merely following the recommendations in a new report from the State Health Department, A Public Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.

That report, based on four years of research, is also politically judicious. It avoids condemning hydrofracking or sensationalizing its potential health risks. Instead, it concludes that “the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information” studied for the report demonstrates that there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF [High Volume Hydraulic Fracking], the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impact which could adversely affect public health.” The 184-page report is buttressed by 74 references, mostly well-documented studies and reports from the past few years. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Mixed Message for NYS History


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Half Moon Dutch Ship SketchFour recent news items have pointed to the resource limitations that history programs face but also to the potential for new sources of support.

The first was the radio interview with Dr. Charles Gehring, the long-time translator of the Dutch colonial records held by the State Library and State Archives.  Gehring confirmed the immense historical research importance of these records. His discussion of the records’ value reinforced the importance of New York’s Dutch origins. Continue reading

Lessons From New York’s History of Resilience


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BigULeveeThe recent revival of “Evacuation Day” – November 25, 1783, the day British military forces left New York City at the end of the Revolution – is a reminder of New York City’s resilience. The city had been occupied for several years but soon after the British left and New Yorkers got control of their city, it began a recovery and remarkable upward trajectory.

“Resilience” is an often-used term these days. Andrew Zoli and Annmarie Healy’s 2012 book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back summarized recent scholarship and help popularize the term. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Leadership and NYS History Month


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New York State History MonthNew York State History Month (November) is just over half through. November was designated in statute in 1997 as State History Month but it has been mostly ignored, until this year.

Last year, State Historian Bob Weible wrote a post in these pages entitled “Is NYS History Month Dead?” which suggested using the month for public history events. Thanks to Bob’s leadership and initiative, State History Month now has a higher visibility and momentum, as described in his recent follow-up. Continue reading

Bruce Dearsyne: Strengthening Public History in NYS


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New-York-State-Map1Over the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion here on The New York History Blog about the status and role of local government historians, including, for instance, a summary of a special issue of the journal Public Historian three years ago on the status of history in New York State, and, most recently, Peter Feinman’s post “The State of Municipal Historians,” which resulted in many comments.

Local government historians are unique to New York State. They give us an edge over other states in the local history arena. Their potential is immense. But their status and role need to be strengthened. Continue reading

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