Tectonic forces and global cooling and warming set the stage for the dawn of New York State history. The stage was not a barren one and long before King Kong climbed the Empire State Building that scrapped the sky, giants walked the ground that would become the Empire State. These giants would be called “mastodons” and they became important in religion and nationalism in ways that before their discovery no one could have imagined.
The story of mastodons and New York begins in 1705 in Claverack, Columbia County. A Dutch tenant farmer picked up a five-pound tooth that had rolled down a hill and landed at his feet. Being a sensible sort of person, he naturally traded the tooth to a politician for a glass of rum. The tooth thereupon made its way up the political food chain until it arrived in London. Continue reading
Over the summer, I wrote a series of posts on the American Revolution Reborn conference. Those posts included segments devoted to the American Dream and American Exceptionalism. In course of writing those posts, I had private communications with Mike Zimmerman, the initiator of the conference.
This led to him writing a post for The New York History Blog. In my opinion, part of that post derived some from immediate and current events in the American political arena, particularly the judgment in the Zimmerman/Martin murder case which seems to be in the news again. Continue reading
With my 100th post to The New York History Blog, I embark on a new venture. I have been asked to write a 4,000-word history of New York. That is a lot of history to cover in very few words. I am not sure if it is even possible…at least for me. I have decided to divide the subject into a series of topics and to post these shorter pieces to New York History.
Unfortunately the number of topics seems to mushroom so it is not quite as simple as writing seven 500-word posts. I expect when all is done is to have vastly exceeded my assigned allotment and to require substantial pruning if not outright dismemberment. Continue reading
Teaching is in the news. Especially the apparent lack of it. The initial test results under the Common Core standards are abysmal and they are wreaking its havoc in the school systems of America. The Common Core now being implemented may not be garner the same attention as Obamacare, but it has generated considerable vociferous and intense condemnation, including calls to cease and desist here in New York. John King, the Commissioner of Education in NYS, cancelled his original statewide tour of public forums when the first one spun out of control, although he has begun a new round.
The new social studies curriculum is scheduled for 2015, the first update since 1996. That curriculum is sure to be a topic of discussion at the annual conference of the New York State Council of Social Studies in Albany in March. The theme of the conference is “Linking Communities Together: Academic, Civic and Cultural.” Continue reading
Our neighbor state has been trying to promote the teaching of history in the schools. The Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO), an organization similar to the Museum Association of New York, sent a notice to its members to take a survey with the message: “We NEED your help to get Connecticut history into the hands of Connecticut teachers and students.”
The goal of this effort was stated as “LET OUR TEACHERS KNOW THAT CONNECTICUT HISTORY IS ALIVE AND WELL.” CLHO asked the question which could be asked in New York as well: “Connecticut’s history rarely ever makes it into the classrooms in our state. Why?” Continue reading
Halloween is boffo at the box office. It’s not your father’s Halloween. In recent years the holiday has soared in prominence and become an economic powerhouse. Time magazine had an article in its culture section entitled “Monsters Inc.: Inside the Weird World of Professional haunting.” This was a followup to last year’s smaller article on “Tombstone Tourism: A Second Life for Cemeteries.” The New York Times published “House Haunters” while my local paper had a front-page article “In the Lower Hudson Halloween Is SCARY-BIG BUSINESS.” Clearly something big is occurring and historic organizations often are cashing in. Continue reading
History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940, by Robert B. Townsend was just reviewed on H-Net. While I will not be purchasing the book (I have enough to read already!), the review struck home. .
The author was the deputy director of the American Historical Association (AHA) and much of the book is through the prism of that organization. As one might expect from the title, Townsend’s concern is the fragmentation of the historical enterprise into bunch of organizations that do not speak to each other. Does that sound at all like the New York historical enterprise today? Continue reading
On September 30, the recently reopened historic Capitol Theatre in the village of Port Chester in the Town of Rye, in the county of Westchester, founded in the days of vaudeville, beloved by the Grateful Dead, rechristened by Bob Dylan, and just host to Willie Nelson, hosted Flashbacks.
A musical to the history of the town written by local sisters and educators Camille Linen and Donna Cribari, Flashbacks tells the story of high school students who complete a historical multimedia project and are drawn to the local river that mysteriously produces figures from the town’s past as primary source documents. Continue reading
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. On the one hand with the internet (especially blogs like this one) and MOOCs (free online courses known as Massive Open Online Courses), it’s possible to disseminate more historical information to more people than ever before. On the other hand, it is becoming harder and harder to make a living doing it.
A recent post on a list serve for the Society of Historians for the Early American Republic (SHEAR) initiated this train of thought in my mind. Below is the post by Vivian Conger, Ithaca College, reprinted by permission. Continue reading
This summer New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni wrote: “NBC recently announced plans for a mini-series about Hillary Clinton, whose current exaltation seems bound to end with her visage on Mount Rushmore. The network would do as well to consider a docudrama devoted to Weiner.”
While there is no doubt that her presidential campaign train has left the station (soon to approach warp speed), his mention of Mount Rushmore got me thinking. The well-known dictum: “If you build it they will come” is the goal of visitor centers at all tourist sites. But where would you build it? Where should her presidential library be? Continue reading
Westchester County decided that historical heritage is not important. It is too insignificant to waste any time, energy, and effort supporting.
I was reminded of this reality in a recent article in the local paper entitled “Hotels Get Upscale Updates.” Coincidentally, the hotel is where the annual conference of social studies teachers in the Lower Hudson Valley had been held until this year. In fact, according to the article the $15,000,000 renovation followed the $12,000,000 renovation at the hotel where we will be meeting this year. Continue reading
Readers of The New York History Blog may recall that in a previous post I asked if anyone had heard about what had been discussed in Cooperstown at the NYSHA conference in a private meeting involving the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), the New York State historical Association (NYSHA), and the New York State Historian among others.
Some of those discussions have now been reported in the APHNYS newsletter. The following excerpts are from the newsletter. Continue reading
August 28, 2013 not only was the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” March on Washington, it also was the one year anniversary of the kickoff of the Path Through History project. That event was attended by hundreds of people from throughout the state and heralded a bold vision of the role of the history of the state in New York’s future.
I have the paperweight handed out to commemorate the event, and two slick, glossy, color booklets distributed for the event. I even have an unused napkin from the Executive Mansion with its image as a souvenir of the event. What I don’t have is any hope for the project of great potential and little achievement. Continue reading
I would like to address some questions raised about my critique of the American Revolution Reborn conference.
I’d like to begin with Tara Lyons, of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. I have two conference handouts from her entitled “Museum Introduction for Refugee Students.” Under the objectives for the program is listed: Explain how this museum might help them learn about their new home. She then turns to the task of how to achieve this objective:
Thanks are due to Mike Zuckerman for his response to my series on the American Revolution Reborn conference which he organized. I appreciate his having read an unsolicited essay from a stranger whom he just met, for our extended email exchange, and for his contributing a post to New York History on this topic.
If I may, I would like to respond to his comments by separating them into two types: those that addressed the conference itself and those that refer to the more general question of America’s identity. Continue reading
The historic journey of Two Row Wampum is in the news. The journey by water from Albany to the United Nations has been recorded and chronicled each step of the way.
The culminating activity at the conclusion of the journey is to honor the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The paddlers consist of roughly equal numbers of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, paddling side-by-side in two lines to honor and bring to life the imagery of the Two Row Wampum.
I confess to a bias in support of trains since my father was an electrical engineer for General Electric. He rode the rails with GE’s state-of-the-art engine (which he helped design) and appeared in the final scene of the movie Union Pacific at a time when movies played in Bijous in communities across the country. Those days are gone, but what can Amtrak contribute to the history community in New York?
Amtrak is underutilized contributor to cultural heritage tourism. I have ridden the Amtrak rails from Albany to Niagara Falls, from New York City to Plattsburgh and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Amtrak train service in New York is not designed to promote tourism in New York. Continue reading
Route 66 is perhaps the most culturally iconic road in American history. Not to take anything away from other byways, but how many have had TV shows and become tourist destinations?
New York has its share of numbered roads with historic connections. In Westchester County where I live there is Route 1 (the Boston Post Road into New England); Route 9 (the Albany Post Road from NYC to Montreal), and Route 22 (the White Plains Post Road to the Canadian Border). These roads follow the lay of the land and have been used for centuries. We should be promoting them as access points to our history community.
On May 30, 2013, I wrote about a high school teacher who took a class to Greece and wondered how that teacher would go about creating a visit to New York State. He used a travel agent because multiple paths through Greek history exist and he could pick the one he wanted. One might think that something similar could be done in New York but consider the following examples.
The Historical Society of Rockland County has numerous bus trips throughout the year. They sell out and are well received. They also are mainly in Rockland County which the Society, of course knows well. After that post about Greece, I received a private email which I am authorized to share. The Society would like to expand its bus programs beyond the county but encountered problems. Continue reading
Last Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo inaugurated the Adirondack Challenge as an upstate tourist initiative. The Indian River rafting challenge was issued to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who, according to news reports, is more familiar with yachts than inflatable rafts. The State defeated the City by 18 seconds in the three mile race. A wet and good time was had by all.
Governor Cuomo’s love for upstate (in particular the Adirondacks, not, say Syracuse), is well known. According to the New York Times a year before the Path through History roll-out, the Governor “has conspicuously avoided leaving the state” save for driving on the Palisades Interstate Parkway when headed north from the city. As Cuomo put it: “You can have the best vacation of your life right here in the state of New York. I see no reason to go anywhere else. It’s my state and I’m sticking to it.” Continue reading