This year marks the onset of the bicentennial of the construction of the Erie Canal. As part of that event the world conference of canals is being held this September in Syracuse with various field trips to canal-related sites. In this post, I wish to address one aspect of the creation of the Erie Canal that often goes unnoticed: its role in the debate over Noah’s Flood.
The 1820s was known as the diluvial decade. The reference is the search for geological evidence of Noah’s Flood. The decade was on the cusp of the emergence of geology as a full-blown science in its own right with the publication of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology; being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation (1830-1833). Eventually there would be a new “ology” in colleges as knowledge fractured into the silos that define the modern university with diverse specialties and expertise. Continue reading
How many historic sites does the NYSOPRHP maintain? That is not a trick question. At the NY Statewide Preservation Conference, May 5-7, in Albany and Troy, the question was an unintended running joke among several sessions. Generally the number was between 35 and 40 with a variation due to how to classify a site given a site can be recreational and historic. But this is not a post about the combination of recreation and historic sites in one bureaucracy (it wasn’t always that way). Rather it is a discussion about what it means to be a state historic site. Continue reading
In a previous post, I reviewed the position of the Commissioner of Education. Mary Ellen Elia had received an open letter from two prominent state historians about the state historian position. In this post, I’ll consider what happened next. Continue reading
New York State now has a new historian. In some ways that should seem like a routine announcement since the State is required to fill that position. However as people in the history community well know, the State, like many counties, cities, towns, and villages does not always comply with regulatory requirements. There is no penalty to the State for the failure to comply either and only a trivial unenforced one at the municipal level.
Even when the State and the municipalities do comply with the letter of the law, they don’t necessarily comply with the spirit. The position is often disrespected and/or disregarded excluding some ceremonial occasions and is not taken seriously when the real decisions of government are involved. The diminishment of the State position sets a poor but accurate example to the county executives, mayors, and town supervisors that local and state history really aren’t important regardless of any lip service at the press release level. How often is the voice of the history community actually heard in the REDC funding process (which is now beginning again for the 2016 cycle). How much funding is there for collaboration in the Path through History project regardless of how often the jargon is spoken? Message received. Continue reading
At present the position of the New York State Historians lies deep within the bowels of the state bureaucracy, starved for resources, and scarcely able to see the light of day through all the bureaucratic levels above it.
Formerly, the State Historian reported to the Director of the New York State Museum, who reports to the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Culture and Education, who reports to the Executive Deputy Commissioner of Education, who reports to Commissioner of Education, who answers to the Board of Regents.
But what does that mean? Continue reading
While recently investigating the dismal record of the Amistad Commission, I came across the Underground Railroad portion of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (State Parks) – there I found reference to the New York State Freedom Trail, which began as a state project with similarly high hopes and followed the same trajectory to substandard results.
According to the State Parks webpage: “The New York State Freedom Trail Act of 1997 proposed the establishment of a Freedom Trail Commission to plan and implement a New York State Freedom Trail program to commemorate these acts of freedom and to foster public understanding of their significance in New York State history and heritage.”
In 2005, during Governor George Pataki’s administration, the New York State Legislature created the Amistad Commission to review the state’s curriculum about the slave trade.
“All people should know of and remember the human carnage and dehumanizing atrocities committed during the period of the African slave trade and slavery in America and consider the vestiges of slavery in this country,” the Amistad Commission website says. “It is vital to educate our citizens on these events, the legacy of slavery, the sad history of racism in this country, and on the principles of human rights and dignity in a civilized society.”
Unfortunately, the Amistad Commission’s effort to update the state’s slavery curriculum has been a failure. Continue reading
In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in three regional and county history community meetings. These included the annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network; a meeting of Region 3 (mainly the Hudson Valley) of the Association of Public Historians in New York State (APHNYS); and the Sullivan County History Conference
These three meetings provided opportunities to meet with colleagues, discuss important issues, and learn what’s happening. What follows are some highlights from those meetings. Continue reading
November is New York State History Month. The goal of this initiative certainly is a worthy one. Naturally as historians, a primary source document such as a press release invites a close reading of the text. That’s what historians do and government publications are not exempt from such scrutiny. The exercise is quite productive and one can learn a lot from doing it.
In early October, the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network under the leadership of Spike Herzig, a member of the Tourism Advisory Council, hosted a meeting in Seneca Falls for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.
There were about 85 attendees, mainly from the central New York region. The purpose was to meet, learn, and plan for the upcoming centennials of women gaining the right to vote in New York State (2017) and the United States (2020). The event’s agenda was abandoned as members of the history community began to air their frustrations over Empire State Development’s role in heritage tourism. Continue reading