Category Archives: Books

Drifting: A Hudson River History Memoir


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Drifting Hudson RiverDrifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson (SUNY Press, 2011) is a candid account of the author Mike Freeman’s two-week canoe trip down the Hudson River which offers an introspective and humorous look at both the river and recession-era America.

New to fatherhood and fresh from ten years in an Alaskan village, Freeman sets out to relearn his country, and realizes it’s in a far greater midlife crisis than he could ever be. With an eye on the Hudson’s past, he addresses America’s present anxieties—from race, gender, and marriage to energy, labor, and warfare—with empathy and honesty, acknowledging the difficulties surrounding each issue without succumbing to pessimism or ideology. Continue reading

An Environmental History of Fire Island


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Fire Island Past, Present, and FutureRobert Sayre, a retired English professor at the University of Iowa, has spent nearly every summer on Fire Island since 1934. Drawing on his deep interest in Fire Island environmental history Sayre has written Fire Island, Past, Present, and Future: The Environmental History of a Barrier Beach (Oystercatcher Books, 2013).

Syre’s book, which began as an exhibit at the Point O’ Woods Historical Society in 2007 is a concise and readable environmental history of Fire Island from its post-glacial origins to its human uses and its prospects in the age of global warming. Continue reading

No Country for Peter Stuyvesant: Loss Across Time


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15114The nation or country, what entity is of more importance to modern society? What about capitalistic economy, secularization, democracy, and progress as normative American values. All hold sway, for better or worse, on our perceptions of the world and our place within it. And it is from this vantage point in modernity that we look towards the actions of those who lived before us, reaching back through time to filter the past through the eyes of the present. This is history, and this is why the practice of history is an art and not a science. It is imperfect, an extension of the historian and the times in which they live.

But how then, asks Donna Merwick in Stuyvesant Bound: An Essay on Loss Across Time (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), can we better understand Peter Stuyvesant from our vantage point in the modern world, back to one that was premodern and existed between the post-Reformation and pre-Enlightenment periods. A world in which the United States of America cannot be predicted or imagined, though the history written about Colonial America often chooses a narrative that fits into a story of nationalistic genesis. Continue reading

A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635


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Journey into Mohawk and oneida CountryIn 1634, the Dutch West India Company was anxious to know why the fur trade from New Netherland had been declining, so the company sent three employees far into Iroquois country to investigate.

Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert led the expedition from Fort Orange (present-day Albany). His journal includes the earliest known description of the interior of what is today New York State and its seventeenth-century native inhabitants and it is now issued in a revised edition as A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635: The Journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2013; Translated and Edited by Charles T. Gehring and William A. Starna). Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Southampton College, 1963–2005


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Southampton CollegeSouthampton College, the easternmost campus of Long Island University, opened with great promise in 1963 and closed in 2005 amidst great acrimony. Located in an idyllic environmental setting on the Atlantic shore of Long Island, it had a nationally recognized marine science program that produced an unprecedented number of Fulbright awards and an impressive number of alumni who went on to careers in prestigious universities and research centers.

David Steinberg, the president of Long Island University since 1985, referred to Southampton as “the jewel in the university crown.” However, an accumulating yearly deficit led Steinberg and the Long Island Board of Trustees to view the campus as an “albatross around the university neck.” Continue reading

Towers of Babel: New York’s Historical Enterprise


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home_revolutionHistory’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

Allegany to Appomattox:
Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock


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Allegany to AppomattoxOn September 7, 1864, William Whitlock, aged thirty-five, left his wife and four children in Allegany, New York, to join the Union army in battle. More than 100 years later, his unpublished letters to his wife were found in the attic of a family home.

These letters serve as the foundation for Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers, by Valgene Dunham (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2013), which gives readers a vivid glimpse into the environment and political atmosphere that surrounded the Civil War from the perspective of a northern farmer and lumberman. Continue reading

No Votes For Women: The NY Anti-Suffrage Movement


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No Votes For WomenNo Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2013) explores the complicated history of the suffrage movement in New York State by delving into the stories of women who opposed the expansion of voting rights to women.

Author Susan Goodier makes the case that, contrary to popular thought, women who opposed suffrage were not against women’s rights. Instead, conservative women who fought against suffrage encouraged women to retain their distinctive feminine identities as protectors of their homes and families, a role they felt was threatened by the imposition of masculine political responsibilities. Continue reading

New Book: Thomas Edison and the Rise of Innovation


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EdisonCoverThomas Alva Edison, one of the leading innovators of all time comes alive like never before in Edison and the Rise of Innovation (Sterling, 2013) by Leonard DeGraaf.  Perhaps America’s first business celebrity, Edison was more than history’s most prolific inventor.

Edison pursued more than a thousand patents by combining scientific knowledge, well-equipped laboratories, talented collaborators, investment capital and a bit of showmanship, according to DeGraaf, who argues that in the process Edison changed the way we innovate new technologies. Continue reading

New Book: New Netherland in a Nutshell


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books-fabendAlthough the role of the Dutch in Early American history has been largely ignored, the facts are that New Netherland antedates New England, and religious toleration and ethnic diversity in the United States began with the Dutch.

Why isn’t this better known and taught in our schools? Because, until now an easy to read, short introduction to the history of New Netherland has been lacking. Firth Haring Fabend of Montclair, NJ, a recognized historian of the field, was commissioned by the New Netherland Institute to write New Netherland in a Nutshell (New Netherland Institute, 2012) to fill the gap.  Continue reading

Remarkable Women in New York State History


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image001(5)The significant events in New York State history are well known to educators, students and New Yorkers alike. But often, the role that women played in these events has been overlooked.

In Remarkable Women in New York State History (History Press, 2013), Edited by Helen Engel and Marilynn Smiley, members of the American Association of University Women in New York State have meticulously researched the lives and actions of more than 300 of New York’s finest women. Continue reading

Jeanie Johnston: The Legendary Irish Famine Ship


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Iimage002(3)n All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship (Free Press, 2013), Kathryn Miles recounts the dramatic tale of a legendary ship, the Jeanie Johnston, that ran between Ireland and North America during the height of the Irish famine. During this time, the people of Ireland emigrated to North America in search of job opportunities and a better life, crowding onto aptly named “coffin ships,” whose gruesome conditions rivaled those of slave transports.

But unlike every other coffin ship, the Jeanie Johnston never lost a passenger. While over 100,000 people died aboard other coffin ships, the combined efforts of the Jeanine Johnston’s crew allowed thousands of individuals to find safety and fortune throughout the United States and Canada. Continue reading

New Book Explores Life On A Putnam County Farm


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Life on a rocky farmLife on a Rocky Farm (SUNY Press, 2013) is a folksy look at farm life in rugged Putnam Valley (Putnam County) just as it was being transformed by industrialization and mechanization. The book couples Lucas C. Barger’s (1866–1939) eye for detail with a folksy, anecdotal style to provide an interesting depiction of both the traditional ways of farm life, and the challenges farmers faced as times changed.

Previously unpublished, Barger’s first-hand account of farm life near New York City begins in the late nineteenth century. Little had changed for well over a century in the hilly and rugged terrain of Putnam Valley, where Lucas grew up as a member of the sixth generation of Barger farmers. But as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, industrialization and mechanization decreased the demand for farm labor and farmers had to come up with alternate ways to make money. Continue reading

Montgomery Co. Hosting ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ Discussion


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Solomon Northup in a Sketch from Twelve Years a SlaveThe Montgomery County Department of History & Archives will host a book discussion on Solomon Northrup‘s Twelve Years a Slave.

Northup was born a free man in what is now Minerva, Essex County, NY, in 1808. While working as a cabbie and violinist in Saratoga Springs in 1841, he was abducted, held in a slave pen in Washington, DC, and sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years before regaining his freedom. Continue reading

Local Documentary Filmmakers’ New Book Published


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Pepe_Filmmaking300dpi_CoverLeft Coast Press, a nationally renowned California publishing company, has released their new book, Documentary Filmmaking for Archaeologists, written by two New York documentarians, Peter Pepe and Joseph W. Zarzynski.

Peter Pepe, President of Pepe Productions, a Glens Falls video production company, and Joseph W. Zarzynski, a Wilton-based underwater archaeologist and author, teamed up to write the book. Previously, Pepe and Zarzynski collaborated on producing three feature-length award-winning documentaries about historic shipwrecks as well as creating several “mini-docs” for screening in museums, art galleries, and visitor centers. Continue reading

Books: The Civil War in Color


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The-Civil-War-in-Color-New-York-Infantry-colorThe Civil War comes alive as never before in an extraordinary collection of colorized photographs from the era in The Civil War in Color (Sterling Books, November 2012) by John C. Guntzelman.

Not only does it feature portraits of famous leaders and ordinary soldiers but also vignettes of American life during the conflict: scenes from urban and plantation life; destroyed cities; contested battlefields. The 200+ photographs, from the Library of Congress’s archives, include both well-known and rarely seen images. Also inside–a fine art ready-to-frame photographic print of a stunning colorized Civil War photograph. Continue reading

Books: The Encyclopedia of Local History


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Encyclopedia of Local History 2nd EditionThe Encyclopedia of Local History (AltaMira Press, 2012) addresses nearly every aspect of local history, including everyday issues, theoretical approaches, and trends in the field. This encyclopedia provides both the casual browser and the dedicated historian with adept commentary by bringing the voices of over one hundred experts together in one place. Authoritative, accessible, and comprehensive, Carol Kammen & Amy H. Wilson’s volume is a deep resource for historical organizations of any size. Continue reading

Louis Marshall: The Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America


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louisIn Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America: A Biography (Syracuse University Press, 2013) M. M. Silver provides the first scholarly treatment of a the sweeping influence of Louis Marshall’s career through the 1920s. A tireless advocate for and leader of an array of notable American Jewish organizations and institutions, Marshall also spearheaded civil rights campaigns for other ethnic groups, blazing the trail for the NAACP, Native American groups, and environmental protection causes in the early twentieth century. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: Reaffirming the Power of Place


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02floor-googleicon-blog480Many people in New York’s history community work every day to affirm, interpret, and present the stories of the distinctiveness of their communities and their histories. Local history is very powerful. “Local history allows many interpretations,” write Carol Kammen and Amy H. Wilson in the introduction to the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Local History (2013). “It is flexible and it is not just national history writ small as some have suggested. Local history is the study of past events, or of people or groups, in a given geographic area – a study based on a wide variety of documentary evidence and placed in a comparative context that should be both regional and national.”

There is considerable recent evidence of the continuing power of place. Continue reading

Twelve Years A Slave:
North Country Native Solomon Northup


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northup45aMinerva in Essex County, primitive and remote in the early 1800s, hardly would have seemed a likely birthplace for a man who would write a book which would attract national attention, make the author a household name, and, to some degree, help start a civil war. But indeed, it was there that Solomon Northup, author of Twelve Years A Slave, was born.

Technically the town of Minerva did not exist at the time of Solomon’s birth on July 10, 1807 (though his book gives 1808 as his year of birth, more official documents have it as 1807); the town of Minerva was not formed until 1817. In 1807 the area, not yet known as Minerva, would have been part of the Town of Schroon. Continue reading