Scholars divide time into periods in an effort to make history comprehensible, but when to draw the diving line can be problematical and historians often disagree where one period ends and another begins.
For the birth of the nation, I am using the end of the colonial period, roughly from the French and Indian War to the end of the War of 1812. The colonial era for me was the time of the settlement of the 13 colonies which would become the United States. That process began in Jamestown and ended approximately 130 years later in Georgia. Up until then individual colonies, notably New York, Massachusetts / New England, and Virginia, dominate the curriculum, scholarship, and tourism, with only passing references to the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Dutch in New York. Continue reading
Peacefully sharing a space-time continuum does not come easily to our species. The challenge of doing so was played out in colonial New Amsterdam/New York in the 17th and 18th centuries especially from Albany and Schenectady westward throughout the Mohawk Valley.
There, and north to the Champlain Valley and Canada, multiple peoples who had not yet become two-dimensional cliches struggled to dominate, share, and survive in what became increasingly contentious terrain. Battles were fought, settlements were burned, and captives were taken, again and again.
By the 19th century, much of that world had vanished save for the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. By the 20th century, that world existed in state historic sites, historical societies and local museums, Hollywood, and at times in the state’s social studies curriculum. Continue reading
The film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” is an apt metaphor I frequently return to and during this holiday season, it’s useful to reflect on the Bedford Hills Historical Society. What role should the Bedford Falls Historical Society have played?
I’ve offered my view of the role of historical societies in communities here at The New York History Blog before. My contention has been, among other things, that historical societies fall into a dangerous and unsupportable trap if they think of their primary function is to support tourism. Quite the contrary, they are community organizations, part of the social fabric like schools and libraries which also are chartered by the New York State Education Department. Continue reading
The challenge of contact in the 17th century between the Dutch and the Iroquois was brought to life in the 21st century with a symbolic summer journey from western New York to the United Nations to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum and its message.
That event was the subject of several posts on The New York History Blog. I wrote about the scholarly challenges posed by the Two Row Wampum; Naj Wikoff, an artist active in the Lake Placid region, also wrote about the the Two Row Wampum, acknowledging that there is not a written record of the treaty, nor does the physical object exist, but the oral tradition of the event is valid and its message remains relevant. Continue reading
In cultural studies the cosmic center refers to the meeting point between the heavens and the earth at the center of the universe. It often is associated with a high place perhaps in nature like a mountain or human-built like a ziggurat.
For the United States of America, New York City is the cosmic center, the crossroads of the universe, ground zero. But as New York prepares to ignore the 350th anniversary of when it became New York, it’s also appropriate to remember that when New York began as New Amsterdam, no one thought of it as a city on a hill. There is a story to tell of how it turned out that way. Continue reading
Once upon a time many years ago, there was no tourism in America. And then there was. And the place where tourism began was here in New York State especially along the Hudson Valley.
The tourist explosion combined the artistic explosion generated by people like Irving, Cooper, and Cole along with technological developments like the steamship all New York State developments…and peace with England helped too!
Saratoga helped create this tourist boom. Continue reading
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: