Category Archives: History

New York History

Historians Podcast: Lincoln And The Jews


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The Historians LogoThis week on “The Historians” podcast Brandeis University history professor Jonathan Sarna has stories from his book Lincoln and the Jews (St. Martin’s Press, 2015). Lincoln worked to have Jewish chaplains recruited for the Union army and countermanded an order that had banned Jewish traders from General Ulysses S. Grant’s military district. You can listen to the podcast here. Continue reading

Larry Wittner: The Distortion of American Politics by the Press


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Bernie SandersEver since the foundation of the American Republic, there has been both praise for and suspicion of the role the press plays in U.S. political life. Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that, if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet, Jefferson was also profoundly disturbed by the politically biased and inaccurate articles that he saw published in the press. As he told James Monroe: “My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”

Jefferson’s ambivalence about the press becomes understandable when one considers the distorted reporting that has characterized the current campaign for the U.S. Presidency. Continue reading

Prisons And Prison Life in Early America


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ben_franklins_worldAmerican prisons are overcrowded. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and nearly 2.5 million Americans are serving prison sentences.

Nearly all politicians agree that we need to reform the American prison system, but they disagree on how to do it.  Can gaining historical perspective on this present-day problem help us solve it?

in this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate early American prisons and prison life with Jen Manion, an Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College and author of Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/080

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Bob Weible: What’s Next for the New York State Historian?


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State Education Building by Matt Wade Photography (Wikimedia User UpstateNYer)I would like to congratulate Devin Lander on his recently announced appointment as New York State Historian.

I have known and worked with Devin for several years and believe that he holds the potential to become an outstanding State Historian. He has solid grounding in New York State history and appreciates the power it holds to educate New Yorkers, build responsible citizenship, and strengthen the quality of life in communities across the state. He’s smart, principled, thoughtful, even-tempered, respectful, patient, and very professional. He works productively and well with others, listens to what other people have to say, promotes cooperation among diverse constituencies, and gets good things done.

At the same time that I applaud Devin’s appointment, I share some concerns of many, if not most, people in the state’s history community: municipal and academic historians, history teachers, students, archivists, librarians, museum professionals, historic preservationists, community activists, heritage and cultural tourism officials, genealogists, re-enactors, and a long list of others, including just plain old history buffs. We worry that Devin will find it difficult to succeed in his newly downgraded position within the New York State Museum. Continue reading

New York Aviation History: North Country Airmarks


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AMP1A AMPromoWe take navigation for granted today, what with Siri, GPS, radio communications, radar, and services like Google Maps. But imagine you were a pilot in upstate New York back in the 1920s, when aviation was first coming into its own. If you took to the air, as many citizens did, how would you avoid getting lost?

The answer quite often was — you probably wouldn’t, and with potentially fatal consequences. Many pilots died in crashes after running out of fuel while trying to find a destination. Continue reading

New Biography of Playboy, Yachtsman Gordon Bennett


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gordon bennett book coverAfter a drunken evening in New York’s lavish Union Club, three of the richest men in America made a bet that would change the course of yachting history. Six men died in the brutal first race across the Atlantic, turning the perception of yachting from gentleman’s pursuit to rugged adventure. The $90,000 prize (about $15 million today) helped to herald the “gilded age” of America.

Sam Jefferson’s new book Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic (Bloomsbury, 2016) tells the tale of James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the playboy son of the New York Herald multi-millionaire. Continue reading

The Psychic Highway: How The Erie Canal Changed America


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the psychic highway book cover

Michael Keene’s book The Psychic Highway: How the Erie Canal Changed America (Willow Manor Publishing 2016) takes a look at a time of intense individual focus and enlightened change in the ways in which people communicated along the canal.

It was as if a bolt of electricity struck western New York, lighting it up as fertile ground for ideas and lifestyles that had never been expressed or attempted before. It was a time of religious re-birth, ongoing social reform and making one’s life the best it could be in the present and in the future. Continue reading

Devin Lander Appointed New York State Historian


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Devin LanderState Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today announced the appointment of Devin Lander as New York’s State Historian. Lander, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Museum Association of New York (MANY), is expected to join the Education Department on May 19, 2016.

The State Education Department, the Department’s Office of Cultural Education, and the State Museum have been under fire for their handling of the State Historian’s position in recent years, including their downgrading the job to a lesser-paid position reporting to the Chief Curator of the State Museum.  Among those critical of the decision to reduce the role of State Historian have been former State Historian Robert Weible and members of the Commission on Local and Public History, convened ten years ago by Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education Carole Huxley to advise the Department of Education on the appointment of a State Historian. Continue reading

What’s New At The Old Copake Iron Works?


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copake iron works furnaceThe Roeliff Jansen Historical Society will host “What’s New at the Old Copake Iron Works,” an illustrated lecture by Edgar M. Masters, on Sunday, May 15th at 2pm at the Society museum, 8 Miles Road in Copake Falls.

Masters’ program will begin with a look back at the Copake Iron Works in 2008 when Friends of Taconic State Park first began planning the preservation of the long derelict, but historically important, 19th century industrial site. He will continue with a photo review of the work done in the ensuing years and a quick discussion of future plans, including the re-creation of part of the railroad that once circumnavigated the Copake Iron Works. Continue reading